By Brian McNair, Durham Region
PICKERING, Ontario — Colin Campbell and Dan Renouf are three years apart and knew little of each other growing up in Pickering, but it turns out they have plenty in common.
Most significantly, the two now have a bond that will last a lifetime after winning a Calder Cup together with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League, the top farm team of the Detroit Red Wings.
The Griffins claimed the 81-year-old trophy with a 4-3 victory over the Syracuse Crunch June 13 before a capacity crowd of 10,834 on their home ice of Van Andel Arena, completing a six-game series win and a remarkable 15-4 playoff run through four rounds.
“Words can’t really describe the feeling, especially right after the final seconds ticked down and we won,” said Campbell, a 26-year-old forward, by phone from Michigan on Thursday. “We’ve had fun the last couple of days celebrating. It’s been a long journey, a long grind, long season. It’s a pretty special moment.”
“Hands down the best experience I’ve had in hockey,” added Renouf, a 23-year-old rookie defenceman. “Definitely as a first-year pro, it was cool to kind of see it all in my first year.”
Although the two grew up in the same area of Pickering, the age gap was enough that they didn’t know each other.
Rooming together during a road trip this season, however, they discovered they had many common friends and similarities, including playing baseball with the Pickering Red Sox as kids.
In hockey, both started out with the Ajax-Pickering Raiders, played on scholarship in the National Collegiate Athletic Association — Campbell at Lake Superior State University and Renouf at the University of Maine — and went undrafted into the National Hockey League
And, both hope to use the AHL as a springboard into the NHL nevertheless.
“Every summer you train and at 26, you still have a dream of playing in the NHL,” said Campbell, who had four assists in 17 games of the playoff run. “It hasn’t happened yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen.”
Renouf, who had two goals, four points and was +7 during the playoffs, was called up to the Red Wings for one game in March, getting 13:35 of ice time in a 4-3 overtime win in Carolina.
“Everyone dreams of it, and for it to come in my first year, I honestly wasn’t expecting it,” he explained. “I got that taste and that’s the end goal. The fact that I saw that is going to help me this summer knowing what I’ve got to do to reach that level.”
Campbell and Renouf both spoke glowingly of the chemistry of the Griffins, which had a nice mix of young players and veterans, and also drew on the knowledge of Daniel Cleary, a Stanley Cup winner with the Red Wings who closed out his career with the Calder Cup victory, albeit without playing a game.
“He’s a huge piece,” Campbell said of Cleary. “He’s in the locker room every day. He didn’t play any games, but he’s in a mentorship role. He’s a bit of a sheriff in the room, but also a bit of the glue that holds the team together.”
“He’s someone everyone respects,” Renouf added. “He’s done it all, he’s won at every level. He was around us, gave us tips and he’d be hard on us if we needed it. He’s a great hockey mind and was a really good mentor for us.”
Renouf made a strong impression on the Red Wings in training camp, but ended up suffering a concussion in a pre-season game and missed the first three games of the AHL season. The six-foot-three, 210-pound blue-liner ended up playing 67 of the 76 regular season games, picking up three goals, 16 points and a team-high 95 penalty minutes.
Campbell, a six-foot-one, 200-pound right winger, had nine goals and 20 points in 57 regular season games.
“When you’ve just finished an eight month season and then you play another two months of playoffs, with game after game, it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before,” said Campbell. “I may need a vacation.”
“I came from college where I played 36 games a year, so playing 76 and then going through three seven-game series, it’s a battle, mentally and physically draining,” said Renouf, adding: “But that’s why it’s so sweet when you win because it’s so tough to get here.”