Trips home for Western Hockey League players during the season are few and far between, but Hunter Campbell is making the most out of a rare in-season visit to his hometown.
The Calgary forward and Everett native received a taste of what it was like to be home during the heat of the season on Sunday night, and so did the rest of his team, as the Hitmen’s team bus parked in front of his grandparents’ house in south Everett and about 30 of his teammates and coaches filed out for a feast.
“We have too much food left over, though,” Campbell said. “I’m surprised the boys didn’t come back for fourths.”
Campbell and the Calgary Hitmen take on the Silvertips on Tuesday at Angel of the Winds Arena, his first WHL game at the Silvertips’ home rink.
The 17-year-old forward was developed through the Everett Youth Hockey program and was the third local player to sign a WHL contract after the Hitmen selected him in the third round of the 2016 Bantam draft, joining Silvertips players Wyatte Wylie and Luke Ormsby.
Ormsby, who was drafted by the Seattle Thunderbirds but traded to Everett last season, remembers being excited playing the Silvertips for the first time in the two teams’ conference semifinal matchup in 2016.
“He’s probably so sparked to be back here,” Ormsby said. “I remember that first playoff game of that year they played me against Everett, and I was like, ‘Ah, this is so awesome.’ At that time I had a little hate toward Everett because they didn’t take me, but now it’s the opposite.”
Campbell, who goes to Cascade High School during the offseason, said he doesn’t harbor any grudges against Everett for not selecting him — even though Everett selected Mark Liwiski, who was eventually suspended and traded to Kelowna in 2017, two picks before Campbell, citing that he’s aware in the end it’s a business.
He’ll settle for playing against Everett once a season. The Hitmen are on the second leg of their five-game Western Conference road trip. Tuesday’s contest with Everett begins a stretch of four games in five nights for Calgary.
Wylie is thrilled to face his childhood friend on the ice.
“It’s awesome,” Wylie said. “He’s like my best bud in the summer, we skate together all the time, go to the gym. To play against him this year it’s cool. You only get it once.”
Campbell broke in with the Hitmen last season as a 16-year-old, compiling 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 59 games. He has a goal and five assists in 21 games this season.
Playing in the WHL is a dream come true for Campbell. During the Silvertips’ inaugural season in 2003, when Campbell was just 3 years old, his family bought season tickets and while Campbell doesn’t remember much from that first season, the introduction to the WHL game in Everett convinced Campbell he wanted to play in the league as he got older.
Even as NCAA Division I schools were contacting him, Campbell made it clear he saw himself as a WHL player.
“In the back of my mind, I knew where I wanted to be,” Campbell said.
Expect a warm reception for Campbell on Friday, as the forward expects around 100 of his friends and family in the stands on Tuesday.
It’s a homecoming Campbell has been anticipating for months.
“Friends, family, parents’ friends, people who taught me, people who’ve been around the rink since I’ve been young (will be there),” Campbell said. “All my buddies are going to be there and hopefully it’s not too embarrassing with all the signs.
“I grew up skating here and I grew up watching it. … I honestly can’t wait. It’s going to be breathtaking on the ice with all the fans and everything.”