Shaky nerves, lack of confidence - call it what you want. Early in camp, Steven Kampfer had it.
But on Monday at the Bell Centre, Kampfer forgot about his problems and played his up-tempo, puck-moving game. The result: a 2-1 Bruins win, a helper on the winning goal, and a better grasp on the No. 7 defenseman’s job.
“The coaches have been talking to me about jumping up more in the play and being more aggressive,’’ Kampfer said after the win. “I definitely think tonight allowed me to do that. I felt really comfortable out there.’’
The race for the seventh blue line job is down to two: Kampfer and Matt Bartkowski. Entering camp, Kampfer had the inside track. In his rookie season last year, Kampfer had five goals and five assists in 38 games, averaging 17:43 of ice time per appearance.
Before he was derailed by a concussion March 3 - Mattias Ritola blasted the first-year defenseman - the University of Michigan graduate appeared to have a permanent NHL job on lockdown.
Even with his rookie accomplishments, Kampfer knew there were no guarantees he’d be with the big club to start 2011-12. Because of those worries, Kampfer didn’t have the attitude he needed to make a good impression early in camp.
Bartkowski, who entered camp with more muscle on his frame, surged ahead of Kampfer. Bartkowski was skating well, throwing hits, and making better decisions with the puck.
“I just don’t think I felt good moving the puck,’’ Kampfer said. “I was a little nervous coming into camp.’’
Kampfer’s bosses recognized his shortcomings. Before Monday’s game, assistant general manager Don Sweeney sat Kampfer down for a tire-pumping session. Sweeney reminded Kampfer to play with more swagger. Kampfer delivered.
The 23-year-old, paired with Dennis Seidenberg, submitted his sharpest preseason performance. In 20:31 of ice time, Kampfer landed three pucks on Canadiens goalie Carey Price and blocked two Montreal attempts.
On Chris Clark’s third-period game-winner, Kampfer created the scoring chance by rushing the puck up the ice. He carried the puck on the right side through the neutral zone with speed, forcing Jeff Woywitka to backtrack and slacken his gap.
As Kampfer crossed the blue line, he saw Max Sauve cutting into the zone. With a quick dish, Kampfer gave Sauve the puck before Woywitka could step up and tighten his gap. Sauve did his part by spotting Clark and flipping a backhand pass to his linemate. Before Price could push from left to right, Clark had pulled in Sauve’s dish and slammed the puck into the net at 13:15 of the third.
“It’s good to get those when you need it,’’ Kampfer said of Sweeney’s pep talk. “Maybe my confidence was down in the dumps after the first couple days. But I think tonight was definitely my best game so far.’’
Bartkowski didn’t disappoint on Monday, either. He assisted on Boston’s first goal, a Tyler Seguin power-play strike. With Jordan Caron setting a screen on Price, Bartkowski took a backhand pass from Johnny Boychuk and let a shot fly. His shot didn’t get through, but Seguin scored on the rebound.
Bartkowski played 22:03, second-most on the team behind Boychuk (22:13), and had three shots and one hit.
“He’s starting to take advantage of his size and his strength,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “He’s a good skater. He protects the puck well. He’s got to make the easy plays. Sometimes he complicates it and tries to make the tougher play. That’s where he’s got to get better.’’
With two preseason games remaining, the decision, at this time, could be a coin flip. The left-shot Bartkowski could be a No. 3 defenseman in time. Kampfer, a right shot, projects to be a No. 5. Short-term, Kampfer appears to be more NHL-ready and has more big-league shifts.
“We’ve got some decent players back there,’’ Julien said. “At worst, whether they stay or not, we’ll certainly feel comfortable about our depth.’’
Hamill headed down
Zach Hamill, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2007 draft, was placed on waivers yesterday with the purpose of being assigned to Providence. Hamill can be claimed by any team before today’s noon deadline. The Bruins do not anticipate him being claimed.
This is Hamill’s fourth professional year, but he remains on his entry-level contract, which is good for three seasons for most junior players. Hamill is on an entry-level slide because of his late birth date (Sept. 23, 1988) and the date he signed his contract (Aug. 8, 2007).
According to assistant GM Jim Benning, Hamill must clear waivers because he has played in the AHL for three full seasons.
Hamill has been a major disappointment. The 23-year-old center has appeared in four NHL games, recording one assist. In Sunday’s 7-3 preseason win over Montreal, Hamill centered Brad Marchand and Benoit Pouliot and didn’t have much offensive presence.
Hamill has yet to establish himself as a consistent AHL center. Last season, he had 9 goals and 34 assists in 68 games for Providence. If Hamill is not claimed, the Bruins are hoping he will develop more efficiently under first-year head coach Bruce Cassidy, formerly Rob Murray’s assistant.