Retiring Campbell always brought everyone together in minor hockey

"I don't think anybody will come close to giving back to the community as much as Hugh did"

Hugh Campbell has always had a strong understanding of where everyone was coming from.

That was perhaps never more evident, explained friend and long-time minor hockey executive Tom Dart, when Campbell and he were looking to first get the Barrie AAA Zone Hockey Association off the ground in 1996.

With the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) looking to get other organizations in the area better represented at the AAA level, they stepped in and required a zone organization be formed apart from the Barrie Minor Hockey Association (BMHA). 

“He was instrumental in making that happen. He started the program,” Dart said of Campbell, who after 35 years of being involved in minor hockey, including the last 14 years as Chairman of the Barrie AAA Zone, retired earlier this month.

Except for the first few years, Dart explained, many people in the BMHA weren’t happy they had to split away, so there was a little bit of conflict between the then Barrie AAA Icemen and the BMHA for a while.

“But he was instrumental in smoothing that over too,” said Dart, who himself has been involved in minor hockey in Barrie since 1988. “He was very good at it. He’s made a very strong effort to maintain a good relationship with the BMHA and there hasn’t been anymore conflict between the two groups.

“Hugh has a lot to do with that.”

Campbell always promoted a strong relationship among all the centres. He had a really good way of understanding where everybody was coming from and seeing both sides of the argument all the time.

“He’d find a way to bring people together,” Dart continued “That to me was a key element of Hugh, he really brings people together. As with any organization, you always had people with strong opinions and he always had a way of finding the middle ground for everybody and bringing a consensus together.”

That leadership will be dearly missed.

“I don’t think anybody will come close to giving back to the community as much as Hugh did,” said Pauline Chiodo, who has worked several years alongside him as the Barrie AAA equipment administrator. “He’s a special man, that’s for sure.”

The decision to leave the Colts program for Campbell came after he and his wife decided they were moving to the Niagara area to be closer to her family. With son and former Owen Sound Attack defender Adam having moved with his family to Prince Edward Island last summer, Campbell knew it was time.

“It was the appropriate time for me to step down otherwise I would have continued to stay involved if we were staying up here for sure,” Campbell said.

The Barrie AAA executive announced on March 1st that Greg Hotham will officially take over as chairman until the organization can hold an election on June 1st at its annual general meeting.

For Campbell, what a year to go out on with a worldwide pandemic that has grounded most sports, including minor hockey, to a halt.

” This year has been trying, to say the least. Trying to get whatever we could of a program off the ground,” said Campbell, who took a leave of absence when Adam made the jump to the OHL. “I probably spent as much time this year trying to organize AAA hockey as I’ve done the last five years combined, I would think. It just seems like it was a never-ending battle since last August trying to get it up and running and all the rules and procedures and health units and everything else.”

Still, he admits, walking away from a program he helped build from the ground up isn’t easy.

“I’m sorry to leave it. It’s been a lot of fun and I really enjoy it,” he added. “I think we’ve built a pretty good program here in Barrie now. It’s kind of my little baby to a certain extent. I’ve been pretty actively involved right from the start when Barrie AAA started up to today.”

The rewards over the years have more than made up for all those volunteer hours he put in. From kids getting the opportunity to play past AAA to instituting a development program that has been a huge success, Campbell is proud of what he and the Barrie AAA executive and staff have been able to accomplish over the years. 

“I think of the success that some of our players have had,” he said. “We’ve had a large number over the years that have gone to the OHL and universities and scholarships and things like that. A few have made it as far as the NHL, so that’s been nice to see them develop through the program.

“But overall, just the having fun playing hockey, being on a competitive team and playing with your buddies, and that camaraderie that comes with playing hockey in Canada has been the biggest thing.”

Joe Rockbrune, the vice-chair of hockey operations for the Barrie AAA Zone, praises Campbell for his leadership, especially over the last 12 months through COVID when Campbell showed “much strength and thoughtfulness” dealing with the pandemic and all the protocols.

“He had a singular focus to ensure we do what is best for the child athlete and at no time did he waiver, even in the most difficult of scenarios,” Rockbrune said. “He lead our board with dignity and inclusiveness.”

“Everyone had a voice,” Chiodo said. “I don’t know how it’s run in other organizations, but he’s first class.”

For Dart, when you lose someone who has given as much as Campbell has, it’s a huge loss.

“We’re going to really miss him,” he said of Campbell. “He just had a great way of being sort of firm and yet compassionate. He really understood hockey very well. He understood the parents’ concerns and tried to manage the parents’ concerns versus the kids, which was always an issue.”

Dart said it helped that Campbell didn’t have any kids in the program at that time. He was just volunteering his time completely.

“I never saw him get riled (up) ever,” Dart said. “He just had this calm demeanour about him, yet he’d be firm. He’d make you stand by the rules and there were consequences if you didn’t.

“He always did it in a real professional way. We were lucky to have him.”

Campbell appreciates all the kind words he has heard since announcing he was retiring. He says he tried to do the best he could to follow the rules and stay within the perimeter.

“I didn’t have an agenda other than the best interest of the hockey programs, so that made it a lot easier for what I was dealing with,” he explained.

Campbell believes if you don’t have a love for the game, you’re not going to succeed. His advice for parents, just go and enjoy watching your son play.

“I still miss watching my son play,” he said of Adam. “It’s been 20 years since he played minor hockey. We used to watch every game and enjoyed watching his games. It goes by too fast, so you need to enjoy it while you can and just be supportive of them more than anything.”