WILMINGTON, Mass. — Steve Kampfer has been waiting 18 years for the call he received late Tuesday night.
That's when the 22-year-old defenseman got the word that he had been called up to the NHL for the first time by the Bruins, who are a short a defenseman with Mark Stuart sidelined indefinitely after being injured in the first period of Tuesday's 3-2 win over the Sabres.
"I got the call last night after the game," said Kampfer after his first practice with the big club. "It was pretty exciting. Your first call-up is always fun. I got here a couple hours before practice. I didn't want to be late on the first day.
"I've been waiting for that day since I was 4 years old and first started playing hockey," added Kampfer. "You always dream of playing in the National Hockey League. Tomorrow will be a special day."
Thursday will mark Kampfer's NHL debut, as he will suit up against the Islanders at TD Garden. The reality of that opportunity caused a flood of emotions for the first-year pro.
"I'm obviously nervous, but excited at the same time," said Kampfer. "I think I'd be scared if I wasn't nervous, because this is something you've worked hard for your whole life and now that it's here you want to make sure you play well."
Kampfer will have at least a few friendly faces on hand for his debut.
"I think the first person I called was my mom and dad," said Kampfer. "I think as soon as I called my mom she was on cheap tickets trying to find a flight right away."
While Kampfer will be replacing Stuart on the roster, he's actually filling a different void on the blue line. He's not a physical, stay-at-home defender like Stuart. Instead, he could give the Bruins some much needed offense and puck-moving ability with his superior speed and mobility.
"He's a good puck-handler," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "He moves the puck well. He's got some mobility and he's having a good year. I think it's an opportunity for him to step in and show us he's a good puck-moving defenseman and something that we need. We liked his training camp. We liked the way he handled himself under pressure and hopefully we see more of that in the next little while."
Kampfer did have a solid camp, but he wasn't the final cut on defense. Fellow first-year pro Matt Bartkowski stayed up longer, and even accompanied the team on its season-opening trip to Europe. But Kampfer didn't get discouraged. Instead, he was even more determined to make it to the NHL.
"I thought I had a really good camp," said Kampfer, who was second on the P-Bruins with 3-13-16 totals and a plus-10 rating in 20 games. "It was exciting, but at the same time I knew there was a possibility I was going to go down. My whole goal was just to go down and start off strong and play well.
"I think we're both playing well," added Kampfer of himself and Bartkowski. "I kind of used it as motivation when I got sent down, to keep going and play strong and almost prove that I should come up."
While Kampfer and Bartkowski were competing for a call-up, they also forged a strong friendship while in Providence.
"Matt and I push each other every day," said Kampfer. "We live with each other. We're with each other 24-7. So I think we have that friendship away from the rink, but at the same time we're pushing each other to get better on the ice. Ultimately we both want to be on the team at the same time so we can win a Stanley Cup together."
Kampfer actually started to say win a national championship together before correcting himself with his new goal of winning the Cup. But the Ann Arbor native and University of Michigan graduate still bleeds Maize and Blue, which makes rooming with Ohio State product Bartkowski an interesting arrangement.
"We had a couple battles there, especially the weekend of the football game," said Kampfer. "I really wanted them to win, but they have a great football team down at Ohio State, so we just wanted to make a nice friendly bet. I think I still owe him a dinner."
At least now that he's getting an NHL per diem, it shouldn't be a problem swinging that.
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