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To the rafters: 67’s set to retire Brian Campbell’s #44

The coveted space in the rafters of the Arena at TD Place is home to the jerseys of a few former players you might recognize.

Denis Potvin. Doug Wilson. Peter Lee. Bobby Smith. The best of the best to ever don the 67’s colours.

On Friday night, as the organization continues to honour the past during the club’s 50th anniversary season, another jersey will be hoisted to the roof of the former Civic Centre.

That jersey, emblazoned with the number 44, belongs to Brian Campbell, the former standout junior defenceman who went on to play 1,082 games in the NHL over 17 years.

“It’s a big honour,” said Campbell this week. “As the day gets closer and you see and hear things, you read the articles, it brings back memories of a special time for me.”

Adding Campbell’s jersey to the short list of retired 67’s numbers wasn’t a difficult decision: Campbell had 210 points in 260 games after being selected by the 67’s in the third round of the 1995 OHL Priority Selection Draft. He would go on to win the Red Tilson Trophy as the league’s most outstanding player in 1998-99, while also securing the Max Kaminsky Trophy as OHL Defenceman of the Year and the William Hanley Trophy as the league’s most gentlemanly player. A CHL Player of the Year Award would also be given to Campbell, who would ice his Major Junior career with a Memorial Cup win in 1999.

The significance of joining the small but illustrious list of 67’s players with retired numbers is not lost on Campbell, whose parents will be on hand for the occasion Friday.

“The 67’s take a lot of pride in the names that go up there, it’s elite company to be part of,” Campbell said. “It was a fun time playing here and we had a lot of success. Hopefully we did a lot for the organization by putting an elite team out there every year.”

Looking back at his four years in Ottawa, Campbell said the first things he thinks about are his first and final years in a 67’s jersey.

“My first year I was just trying to get comfortable,” he said. “I was a young guy, probably on the smaller side, trying to see where I fit in. Being there that first year and having some success was really exciting.”

Campbell’s last year speaks for itself. The Strathroy, Ont. native had 12 goals and 75 assists for 87 points in 62 games that year, plus another 12 points in nine playoff games that would ultimately end with Ottawa winning the 1999 Memorial Cup in overtime in their own barn.

“I think I improved every year I was in Ottawa and conquered that league,” Campbell said. “Obviously winning it all at the end, on my birthday, was a special time.”

While you’re not likely to find anyone that would argue against retiring Campbell’s jersey, one ardent supporter of the honour is legendary former 67’s Coach and GM Brian Kilrea, who coached Campbell through his Major Junior career.

Kilrea called Campbell a “quiet and respectful” player to coach while pointing out a unique skill Campbell had that set him apart from other players.

“When he got the puck, he skated faster than when he was skating without it,” said Kilrea. “A lot of players slow down when they get the puck, but not him. Certain guys could beat him a regular race but they couldn’t touch him when they were skating with pucks.”

Kilrea is thrilled that Campbell’s jersey will be hoisted to the rafters at TD Place.

“He’s one of those deserving players who came here and did everything for us and helped us win a Memorial Cup.”

As for the impact Kilrea had on Campbell, it was huge.

“For me, having a coach that cared about me and where I was going, cared about trying to push my career forward and having confidence in me, that was really big,” Campbell said. “You can’t ask for a lot more than a coach who believes in you.”

Campbell will be on hand Friday night as the 67’s host the Barrie Colts at the Arena at TD Place (7 p.m.).

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