How many years do hockey players dedicate to get where they are? You have to assume by the time they've gotten to major junior or the NCAA, the amount of days sacrificing and putting in all those extra hours must be approaching nearly half a player's life, or at least one-third of it.
For University of Michigan defenseman Steve Kampfer, all those years came crashing down around him earlier this month when a random late-night encounter with a member of the school's football team ended with the blueliner being reportedly “body-slammed” onto a sidewalk, fracturing his skull in the process.
By all accounts so far, Kampfer did nothing to warrant the attack; wrong place, wrong time. And while the accused, walk-on fullback Mike Milano, played little for the Wolverines and would not be considered a prospect for the NFL, Kampfer actually had a shot at going to the next level.
A fourth round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks, Kampfer is thankfully back in class, but according to The Blog That Yost Built creator Tim Williams, the defenseman is far from OK.
“His neck is completely immobilized,” Williams said. “He can't lower his head to take notes.”
Based on the severity of the injury, it's a miracle Kampfer isn't dead.
“It was a pretty big crack,” Williams reported. “Right to the base of his skull.”
Along with football, Milano is apparently also a former Michigan wrestler. To Williams, this makes the case even more bizarre, since he always knew the hockey and wrestling teams to be pretty close to each other.
Brendan Morrison is a Michigan alum and a current Anaheim Duck. He can't figure out why a student-athlete would attack one his fellow Wolverines.
“When I was there, it was amicable,” Morrison said of inter-sports relationships. “You almost made a point of reaching out. We would talk to the football team, basketball, baseball, swimming...everyone. It kind of a cultures you.
“You wonder what this guy was thinking to do that to, never mind another student-athlete, but another human being.”
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Every year major schools are rocked by suspensions to players who had a few too many (that will happen when you're not legally old enough to drink anyway) and either got in a fight or broke something.
In fact, just days after the Kampfer attack, cross-state rival Michigan State was investigating a house-party brawl between a couple of their hockey players and the Spartans football team, which led to the hospitalization of sophomore defenseman A.J. Sturges.
And while both Morrison and Williams knew nothing but friendly relations between student-athletes, the fact is something bad happened that night and once an investigation is completed, history will have altered the lives of two young men.
What makes the situation even more tragic is some believe Kampfer was a borderline NHLer. Williams saw the defenseman making great strides in Ann Arbor.
“He was turning into a really great player,” Williams said. “His freshman year, he scared the bejesus out of me every time he touched the puck – he was a turnover machine – but last year he was amazing; super-improved.”
Williams said Kampfer had been lauded by the Michigan coaching staff for his summer conditioning this year. That came after a 2007-08 sophomore campaign where the blueliner's plus-minus shot up 24 points from the season before to a plus-27 and at one point he went 18 straight games without being a minus. His point total jumped to 17 from four as a freshman and he was blocking a lot of shots.
“I actually didn't realize until I looked at the numbers at the end of the year,” Williams said. “He was a completely different player.”
If Kampfer does get back on the ice, it won't be this year. And with Michigan already missing key blueliners Mark Mitera and Brandon Burlon with injuries, the loss is multiplied.
But at least his teammates can see Kampfer standing at practice; because right now it's just good to see him standing at all.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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