After leading the Steel City’s second-tier team in a successful campaign last time out, player-coach Andre Payette has turned to an old friend to help deliver some silverware. Phil Harrison reports.
ANDRE Payette expects forward Derek Campbell to have a significant impact at Sheffield Steeldogs after finally landing the Elite League veteran.
The Steel City’s English Premier League outfit may have lost two of its young stars with goaltender Ben Bowns and top goalscorer Janis Ozolins making the step up to the UK’s top-flight with Hull Stingrays, but they have benefited themselves with two quality imports making a move in the opposite direction.
Canadian-born Campbell’s return to South Yorkshire – he won a regular season championship with Elite League neighbours Sheffield Steelers in 2011 – sees him hook up once again with former Hull defenceman Dmitry Rodin, who was signed by Steeldogs’ player-coach Payette last month.
Payette and Campbell are long-time friends, going back to when they grew up in Ontario and a relationship that was further strengthened by two seasons playing alongside each other for the now defunct Newcastle Vipers from 2007-09.
Their friendship will have been a big factor in Campbell’s final decision, but a move to the part-time set-up of the EPL was always more likely for the 32-year-old this season, following the recent arrival of his baby daughter and fresh business interests outside of hockey in the North East.
As a result, he admits committing to the full-time training schedules of an Elite League club – a return to the Steelers being a real possibility at one point – was always going to prove difficult.
And for Payette, it marks the end of his chase for his No 1 summer target, bringing in a forward who can produce plenty of points, as well as having the willingness to step up for his team-mates and drop the gloves.
“This is something which really works out well for both sides,” said Payette.
“He’s probably the guy I most wanted to bring in once last season finished. He’s really strong on the puck, hard-working and I think he’s going to be one of our leading points men.
“He has a heck of a shot and I think he will overpower most defenceman in this league in his desire to get to the net.
“We’ve known each other a long time so it’s great to have him alongside me again.”
Payette – who led his young team to a third-place regular season finish, a Cup final and a play-off semi-final spot – intends to put Campbell on his top line alongside young British forwards Tom Squires and Stuart Brittle.
He added: “We’ve got some guys in for the new season who are going to be good role models for our young, local kids. We pride ourselves on being the hardest-working team and we’re going to be exciting to watch.”
Campbell, who played a handful of games in the American Hockey League first arrived in the UK in 2006 when he was signed by Manchester Phoenix. His two seasons with Payette at Newcastle followed before he lifted a first top-flight championship with Coventry Blaze in 2009-10.
But it was at Hull last year that Campbell particularly came to the fore with his abrasive style earning him many fans on the east coast.
He posted 17 goals in 62 points, but will always be most fondly remembered by Hull fans after scoring a hat-trick in the second leg of last season’s first round play-off clash with the Steelers, earning his side a 7-4 aggregate victory and an unexpected place at the end-of-season play-off weekend in Nottingham.
“The most important thing is my family so Sheffield is about as close to Newcastle as I can get,” said Campbell.
“I’ve known Andre a long time and he is one of my best friends and I’m happy that this has worked out.
“They are building a good club in Sheffield and they want to be challenging for trophies – and soon – so it’s good to be getting involved with a club at this stage that has such high expectations of itself and is ambitious.
“I’m not sure what to expect really in terms of the league. I won’t be changing anything about the way I play, the main thing is for me to make sure I contribute offensively and take it from there.”