Ok, the first question any Toronto Maple Leafs’ fan might ask is: “Who’s Dusty Imoo?”
The answer is that Dusty Imoo was the goalie coach with Kulun Red Star of Russia’s KHL this season. However, that wasn’t always his job. At one time, he was the Los Angeles Kings’ Head of Goaltending Development. And that might be a hint.
In short, Imoo was the goalie coach that likely saved Maple Leafs’ starter Jack Campbell’s NHL career. In fact, Imoo threw Campbell the lifeline he needed just when his career as a professional goaltender looked to be sinking.
Jack Campbell’s Backstory
Jack Campbell was the first goalie selected and a first-round draft choice of the Dallas Stars in 2010, chosen 11th overall. [By the way, the 2010 Draft also interestingly produced Campbell’s Maple Leafs’ teammate Frederik Andersen during the seventh round (at the 187th overall spot). Andersen is the last player chosen during that 2010 draft who actually had anything near a notable NHL career.]
Campbell was hyped as the next great American goalie in the same vein as Jonathan Quick and the recently-retired Ryan Miller. He was, after all, the goalie who had been able to lead the U.S. to the gold medal at the 2010 World Juniors. He was that good.
But success never came. Instead, Campbell’s career began to go downhill quickly and soon began to fall completely apart. In his last start for the Stars during the 2013-14 season, he surrendered six goals. He was eventually moved to the Los Angeles Kings in June 2016.
Three seasons passed after his 2013-14 NHL debut; and, during all that time, he only made one brief appearance in relief for the Kings and played a period without giving up a goal. However, between his first devastating NHL start and his second more-successful relief appearance, Campbell was a goalie who was clearly lost.
During those three in-between seasons, like an Indiana Jones’ movie where the plane is shown over the globe with a line tracing its route, Campbell globe-trotted between the NHL, the AHL, and eventually landed in the ECHL. He was, in short, miserably unsuccessful in goal and miserably unhappy as a person.
He was driven toward success; but, failure consumed him. He was sick of bouncing around the minors and failing even at the lowest levels – the third-tier ECHL. He saw “no light at the end of a tunnel.” Even if he saw a light, he was heading nowhere. He had no coal for his locomotive.
For Campbell, “It just wasn’t fun anymore. It really took a toll on my mental state.” He added, “I felt like I was (alone) on an island.”
Fortunately, Dusty Imoo Showed Up
It’s not too much to say that Campbell’s NHL career was saved by the Kings’ Dusty Imoo. In the CBC article linked above, Imoo admitted that, when he first met the young goalie, Campbell “was a lost soul. He was really beaten down and a lot of it was self-abuse. He had beaten himself up. He put so much pressure on himself early and quickly.”
In a strange way, Imoo hinted that Campbell was his own worst enemy. He took any on-ice failure “very personally” and felt that made him “a failure as a person.”
At the time, Imoo worked as the goalie coach for the California-based AHL’s Ontario Reign. He admitted that Campbell was a challenge. Imoo saw that Campbell “had no idea who he was.” So the two worked together to redefine just who Campbell was – both as a person and as a goalie.
Imoo worked with Campbell physically but mostly mentally to reshape Campbell’s goalie play and his attitude. Imoo asked Campbell to remember when life and hockey were fun. He asked Campbell: “When you were your best what was it like? What was it like when you felt good about yourself?”
Then the two started to rebuild Campbell’s play and his psyche. Imoo told Campbell to “learn to love yourself first before you can love all the other crap – the game. You’ve got to be happy with yourself as a person.”
As the two worked together, Campbell told Imoo that his slide started when he couldn’t crack the Stars’ lineup when he was an 18-year-old. It bothered him because he’d “always accomplished everything, at that point, that I wanted. It was tough, it was frustrating. It went downhill from there.”
Campbell Was Driven Beyond Good Sense
Campbell wanted to succeed so badly that he pushed himself much further than he should have and exhausted himself physically and mentally. He did goalie drills so relentlessly that he almost would pass out.
Imoo worried. Campbell “would go so hard he would stop breathing … we needed to harness it (Campbell’s energy) the right way.”
Things began to improve for Campbell during Campbell’s time with Imoo. Finally, in 2018-19, Campbell improved to the point where he became the Kings as their full-time backup goalie and signed a contract extension through the 2022 season.
Ranford Picked Up Where Imoo Left Off
During his time with the Kings, goalie coach Bill Ranford continued the work with Campbell. In looking back, Campbell named Imoo as his “mentor [and] there every second for me. Bill gave me my space and allowed me to grow. He let me figure things out; but, when it was time to work, he always had great points.”
Campbell got his head together and began to enjoy the game once more. At the same time, his game improved. And that’s the goalie Maple Leafs’ fans have come to see emerge this season from being a backup to an NHL record-breaking starter.
Where’s Campbell Now Physically and Mentally?
Maple Leafs’ defenseman Jake Muzzin, who scored two goals during the Maple Leafs’ 4-3 overtime loss on Thursday, noted that Campbell is “the hardest-working guy I’ve ever seen in hockey.”
Muzzin also admitted that Campbell has a tendency to fall back into the shadows of his own self-doubt; however, Muzzin notes that it’s a lot better than before. He noted that Campbell “puts a lot of pressure on himself. He hates letting the team down or himself down … but a lot the time, he’s not.”
That’s why, when coach Keefe was talking about Campbell recently, he noted that Campbell was a good goalie because he faced adversity over the season and not because he’d started the season on such a roll.
Campbell Still Keeps Up with Imoo
Campbell and Imoo still talk regularly, and Campbell says that his relationship with Imoo “means the world to me.” For Campbell, Imoo “took me from having no self-esteem off the ice or on the ice to just chilling out completely and believing in myself again.”
That’s why, when the ice chips melt and Maple Leafs’ fans look back on this very unique season, it would be good to remember the impact that a relatively unknown goalie coach who now works in Russia has had on this season’s success.
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