Steven Kampfer has found a true niche in the National Hockey League. However, playing his unique role has surely required a determination and mental fortitude that makes him a unique asset to any team he’s been on.
A prime example of the highs and lows that have followed the veteran defenseman throughout a career that has spanned nearly a decade came in a report the Boston Bruins put out Tuesday morning. Kampfer was reassigned to Boston’s American Hockey League affiliate in Providence, R.I. It was the second time he’d been “demoted” this season and it came the very morning the big club was scheduled to play its last game before a combined nine days off for the bye week and the All-Star Break.
The Bruins have been looking for ways to break out of a slump, and part of the most recent experiment was sending Kampfer down and recalling young, big-bodied defenseman Jeremy Lauzon. The initial plan in calling on Lauzon may have been to provide a bit of the toughness the team has sorely lacked of late. However, Lauzon scored Boston’s first goal of the game. The good showing by the youngster just might have prolonged Kampfer’s latest AHL stint.
Kampfer has eight points in just 42 games played since he re-signed with the Bruins, the very organization with which his professional hockey career began, before the 2018-19 season. He has spent long stretches of the past season-and-a-half watching from the press box as a healthy scratch. Earlier this season, he was placed on waivers and, when he cleared, assigned to Providence. He was subsequently recalled to shore up Boston’s defensive core in the wake of some injuries. No waivers were needed for Tuesday’s roster move.
Most players with a similar career would be easy to overlook. But that’s certainly not the case for this particular player, and the Bruins know it. In fact, Kampfer was awarded for his willingness to do whatever is asked of him with a two-year contract extension signed in July. With an annual average value of just $800,000, re-signing Kampfer was a no-brainer for the Bruins’ brass.
It’s clearly not just the Bruins who have seen the value in Kampfer’s ultimate-team-player mentality, despite the fact that he has never really experienced regular playing time in the NHL. Teams have come calling to take a chance on the high-energy, hard-hitting blueliner time and time again.
Kampfer was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft and was traded to Boston before his collegiate hockey days at the University of Michigan were over. After beginning his professional hockey career in Providence, he made his NHL debut in the 2010-11 season.
Kampfer was a Bruin when Boston won its last Stanley Cup in 2011. However, he suffered a knee injury during his rookie campaign. As a result, he played just 38 games and did not qualify to have his name etched on the sport’s ultimate prize alongside those of his teammates.
Kampfer’s first stint with the Bruins ended with just 48 games played over the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons. He also played 13 games for the Minnesota Wild during the 2011-12 season, then spent the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons in the AHL before being traded to the Florida Panthers. The Panthers traded him to the New York Rangers during the 2016-17 season, and he played in the Rangers’ system until returning to the Bruins last season.
The most games the 31-year-old veteran defenseman has played in any one season was 47 for the Panthers in 2015-16. Now in his 10th season in the NHL, Kampfer has played 211 games and contributed 13 goals and 21 assists in that time.
Although he has played professional hockey since signing his original three-year entry-level-contract with the Bruins in 2010, he has bounced between the NHL and the league’s top minor league affiliate, the AHL, over the years. In addition to Providence, Kampfer has played for the Houston Aeros, Iowa Wild, San Antonio Rampage and the Hartford Wolf Pack.
So, what has kept Kampfer in the NHL for so long and why do the Bruins see him as such an asset to the team? Quite simply, Kampfer puts in the work and never complains, even when he is asked to sit out for weeks at a time as a healthy scratch.
He has accepted his role as a fill-in defenseman, called upon only when injuries occur or a lineup change is necessary, and he handles that role in a way few professional athletes could. When Kampfer does get the call to suit up for a game, he gives his all, checks hard and pursues the puck with the gritty determination any team would love.
Before playing four years of collegiate hockey at the University of Michigan, Kampfer played two seasons with the Sioux City Musketeers in the United States Hockey League.
Kampfer seems to have made quite a niche for himself as the go-to guy in the toughest of situations. He will never be an All-Star and will most likely never play much more than half of a season’s worth of games. Still, the Bruins are lucky to have him.
I am a 46-year-old journalist living in the greater Pittsburgh area with my husband and two cats. I am a proud Penn State University alum. Hockey is life. Not much else needs to be said.