In the second part of our two part feature, Derek Campbell now takes us to the night that ended his career as he recalls the incident with Nico Sacchetti, what happened on the ice, off the ice, his reaction to his 47 game ban and his sacking from Hull Stingrays.
Derek Campbell is a two-time league winner who has plenty of stories to tell about his experiences in the world of ice hockey and while that’s certainly the case, the story of how it all ended is one most people will be interested in.
Known to be something of a physical player, Campbell’s career ended in shame on Saturday 5th October 2013 when playing for Hull Stingrays against Dundee Stars.
An incident on the ice with Stars forward Nico Sacchetti that saw Campbell come off worse initially led to the red mist descending and the moments after were not just career-defining, but in many ways, life-defining.
“I was aware of my penalty minutes, but I was never the number one guy for fights,” Campbell insists. “There was always a heavyweight in the team and I suppose I was seen as the number two guy.
“But my style of play never changed growing up, where I was charge up and down the wing and hold guys accountable for cheap shots and I think it’s good to have players like that, who keeps other guys honest.
“When I got to my final season in Hull, I had started to become involved in business and was starting to look at life outside of hockey so there was various pressure on my shoulders from all different things.
“Regarding hockey, I was always focussed on playing and training. If we’re playing here, we’re not playing in the NHL where the stakes were much higher. At the UK level, there needs to be more of a respect factor. It’s more a code than a rule and you don’t need to take heads off to prove a point.
“It does happen from time to time and I felt in that game, the player that tried to hit me, I was in a vulnerable position and he came after me. I didn’t see any need for it and I lost my head.
“Because of the situation on the ice, I wasn’t able to hold it in and hold the guy accountable so it got carried off the ice, which isn’t anything you want to see in any sport.
“I’m an emotional person and that’s no secret to anyone who knows me. That’s how I play as well, so if I feel someone is doing something dirty, I need to do something about it.
“He wasn’t in the right place and looking back, it’s too bad there wasn’t more division between the two rooms that maybe would have stopped that from happening. I was coming for him and I wasn’t thinking straight.”
The hit from Sacchetti left Campbell seeking retribution and instead of either trying to deal with it there and then, or waiting until the next meeting between the teams, the Canadian followed his opponent to the locker room – a decision he regrets.
He added: “I just wanted to make sure he didn’t do that sort of thing again and I had lost control. It’s not something I’m proud of and I still think he shouldn’t have been taken liberties. Especially nowadays when there’s so much focus on concussions and things.
“Me being me, there was not a need for the off ice situation. When you take that liberty on a player and you don’t stand up for yourself, it can fuels things even more.
“After the fog cleared and I was able to process what had happened, I felt bad for the sport and anyone coming to the game for the first time and seeing the violence.
“At the same time, you can’t do that and in hindsight, I should have waited until the next game rather than take it to the locker room and dealt with it then.”
Two days later, with the world of ice hockey stunned by what had happened and Campbell’s actions being picked up in media all over the world, Hull took the decision to rip up his contract in anticipation of the huge ban that would have finished his season regardless.
It was an accumulative ban of 47 games made up of fighting (15 games), attempted eye gouge (12), knee to head (12) and excessive force to head (10).
With Campbell not having a club as a result, he was only able to return on 1st September 2014 at the start of the following season, but he never did.
Former Elite League head of discipline Moray Hanson said at the time: “There is no place for any of these actions in our sport. I have studied the game tape in great detail and I have spoken with the three officials, who all were able to give me detailed reports.”
Campbell was finished and at the time, spoke of his regret and apologised that the incident took place in an area where families and children were.
He’s never apologised to Sacchetti and six years on, his stance is still the same with the benefit of hindsight over what happened and while he’s remains disappointed Hull didn’t back him more, he understood why owner Bobby McEwan let him go.
He admits to being surprised by the length of his suspension, but perhaps didn’t pay too much attention to it because of his other interests at that time and did contemplate a return to action the following season, but decided enough was enough.
“I was surprised by the size of the ban to be honest,” Campbell said. “I had been in the league for a long time and there had been things going on prior to my incident that were worse.
STINGRAYS RELEASE CAMPBELL, Hull Stingrays release Derek Campbell with immediate effect. http://t.co/gODcK4vhbY
— Hull Stingrays (@HullStingrays) October 8, 2013
“I think the direction the league wanted to go was to make a statement about that kind of behaviour. Not as a scapegoat or a guinea pig, but to make a point and fair dos to them, they did that.
“Where I was in my life, I didn’t give it as much thought as I would have if I was just dwelling on the game if I didn’t have the other things going on in my life at that point.
“Because I was able to transition and was already in a transitional period, it allowed me to put my thoughts somewhere else and accept what had come to me.
“I wanted to return the following year once the ban was over and had been in touch with different organisations to play, but the love and the burning desire wasn’t there any more.
“I’d done a lot in my career I felt that I was happy with so that was it for me as far as the game was concerned. I have no regrets. It was a great time of my life.
“How it finished was far from how I would have liked to. I loved the game and everything about it so to go out that way wasn’t ideal. I would have liked to have brought my daughter to watch me play, but it didn’t happen.
“From a business perspective, you understand why Hull let me go the way they did. But the history I had with Hull and being part of the team that went to the play-offs, I was surprised they had such a short memory of things.
“At the time I was surprised and hurt that they didn’t back me, knowing the type of player I was, but there was talk of me going back to following year, but it didn’t happen.
During his time in the UK, Campbell played 417, scored 139 times, making 272 assists to total 411 points and also picking up 1,764 penalty minutes with Manchester Phoenix, Newcastle Vipers, Coventry Blaze, Hull Stingrays, and Sheffield Steeldogs.
Now, six years on, he’s owns a chain of restaurants in Newcastle and runs a cocktail bar as he’s more and more settled into life in the UK since hanging up his skates.
But he’ll always be grateful for the opportunity that brought him to Britain and admits he isn’t in touch with what’s happening around British Ice Hockey and even talk of the sport whenever he has customers at his restaurants is at a minimum.
“I’ve had tons of fans come to my restaurant from Hull and Sheffield and it’s always good to see them, “ he said.
“Having a four restaurants now and a cocktail bar, I’m in that trade now. I’m enjoying it and spending time with my family and looking back, I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity I had to come here and what it’s given me.
“I’m based in Newcastle now, but I don’t keen tabs on the league as much, but I still see plenty of guys like David Longstaff, who comes to my restaurant and we talk hockey when they come in.
“Other than that or with customers who used to see me play, that’s where the hockey talk seems to be and I’m happy with that. I’m in a new phase of my life now and I’m loving it.”
Thanks to R & J Stats for stats information