Joining the Penticton Vees has given Michael Campoli, 19, a new lease on life in hockey.
In his first season (2015/16) with Boston College’s Division 1 Eagles, the 6’3″ 195-pound Pointe-Claire, Que. native played just a dozen games and had not dressed at all this year.
“It was difficult not playing and it didn’t seem like there was any light at the end of that tunnel so I decided that I wanted to further my hockey career and take my future into my own hands and give it a last shot,” said Campoli, who played his first games of the BC Hockey League in Penticton’s last three contests, all victories. “My goal is still the NHL and it has been my dream since I was a kid and I’m not ready to give that up just yet.
“It (not playing) was a fairly negative experience and it was such an overwhelming feeling I just needed to do something else. It had a negative impact on the way I saw other aspects of my life and I wanted to make a positive change and I’ve found that in Penticton.”
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About why he left, Campoli said: The opportunity at Boston College wasn’t presenting itself.”
Transitioning from Boston to a smaller city was a challenge and Campoli credited his family, the Vees staff and players in getting him through the process smoothly.
“It helps that I’ve been playing a lot of hockey,” he added.
“I just thought if I was going to make a drastic change in my life I might as well go somewhere new and obviously I had heard phenomenal things about Penticton.
“I wanted to start new in a different place where the future is unknown and there was nothing holding me back.”
While he’s only been in a few games for the Vees this season, Campoli has already made his physical presence felt with his hard-hitting style of play on the blue line.
One person especially pleased with the new addition is Vees head coach and general manager Fred Harbinson.
“I thought for a guy that hadn’t played for awhile, coming into a new program, new systems, new teammates he excelled in every area of the game,” said Harbinson. “For me it always starts with the type of person they are before the player and Michael’s an outstanding person, you can already see he’s going to be a great leader with our team on and off the ice. When you have good people good things happen.”
The coach compared Campoli to former Vee Nick Jones who came to the Penticton via the same route.
“Nick was at Ohio State and it just wasn’t working and he comes back here wins a championship and built his game up and now he’s one of the top players on North Dakota I see the same thing for guys like Michael Campoli,” said Harbinson. “Getting Michael here and James Miller gives us a chance to keep going in the right direction.”
Campoli agreed: “As a team we’re going to make a championship run, that’s our goal, we’re trying to win championships and hang banners.”
College minister there for support
Watching his Boston College teammates from the bleachers was one of Michael Campoli’s biggest challenges in his young hockey career.
Living away from home in a big city he turned to Father Tony Penna, the school’s campus ministry director.
“Father Penna was always there supporting me and gave me a great perspective on life, how to have a positive outlook when times are tough,” recalled Campoli “He and my parents were probably the biggest influence. Father Penna said there was a lot more to life than just hockey but that’s difficult when you live and breath hockey.”
For his part, Penna remembers well when Campoli made the decision to leave and come to Penticton to play for the Vees.
“It was a very difficult situation to separate from here because he had a dream and you know sometimes how dreams grab you and pull you,” said Penna in a telephone interview from Boston. “I admired how he would sit in the stands game after game knowing that deep down within himself… wanting to help the team in a way that he couldn’t by not playing but I never heard a negative word out of his mouth.
“I was just impressed with the way he could meet that challenge without letting it dissolve his spirit. He came to practice with as much energy as any other player, with as much enthusiasm as any other player, hoping maybe the opening would come and he would play.”
For more than two decades Penna has served as chaplain to athletics at Boston College.
“I function more as a sports phycologist than a minister because not everyone on the team is religious but on occasions when an opening is there I try to take advantage of it,” he said with a laugh. “But the enjoyment is this, when you see people like Michael grow, see people have a broader perspective of life itself, that’s the thing that brings me more joy in life than the wins.
“So whoever has Michael has a very good person with a lot of integrity and just a very good human being.”