SPRINGHILL – Alex Campbell came to the game of hockey at a different angle than most players.
“I was born in Bahrain, I moved to Dubai when I was two years old, started skating at two, and started playing hockey at four.”
Now 18-years-old, Campbell moved from Dubai, a city in the United Arab Emirates, to Canada a little over a month ago and has fallen into the lap of hockey luxury we call the Cumberland County Blues of the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League.
“They treat you really well in Cumberland. The guys are cool and the hockey is at an awesome level,” said Campbell before practice in Springhill. “I get to keep my equipment at the rink here, which is new to me. All the tape and stuff is here, there are full 20-minute periods, and the ice is in great shape.”
Campbell studies aviation at Mount Allison University and joined the Blues after failing to make the grade with the Amherst Ramblers.
“I talked to the Ramblers head scout John Davidson. I said, ‘I’m some kid from Dubai who wants to play, can I try out,’” said Campbell. “I didn’t know what the calibre was but I thought I’d go for it. It was a really nice experience trying out for them.”
After being cut from the Ramblers he got a call from Blues general manager Darren Christie.
“They are very approachable and they understand I’m not used to this style of hockey and it will take time for me to adjust and improve and be a better player, which is awesome,” said Campbell.
You could say Campbell’s journey to the Blues started long before he was even born.
His dad is from Winnipeg where hockey is a rite of passage, and he wanted the same experience for his son.
“My dad played Junior B hockey in Castlegar (B.C) for the Castlegar Rebels.”
After hockey his dad became a pilot and went on to fly aircraft in the Middle East. He married Campbell’s mom, who is part Filipino, part Spanish, and the rest is history.
Campbell grew up on skates in Dubai, and when he was eight-years-old the family moved to Winnipeg.
“My dad wanted me to get a sense of the life there,” said Campbell. “I moved back to Dubai when I was 11-years-old and I’ve lived there ever since, until I came here to university.”
Life in the city of Dubai is different than life in Cumberland County, both on and off the ice.
“There’s not a lot of character in the city. It’s all fancy and has everything to do with money but the people I hung out with were Canadians and Americans, so there is a lot of Western culture,” said Campbell. “I was around a lot of hockey guys, guys who grew up here and moved to Dubai, so it’s not a huge culture change.”
Campbell speaks English without an accent.
“Nine percent of the population in Dubai is Arab and the rest of the people are from throughout the world, places like Europe and North America,” said Campbell.
The hockey league in Dubai was formed to help develop the United Arab Emirates hockey program.
“Hockey is growing there, and most of the guys who play hockey there are Canadians.”
There are also a lot of Swedes, Finns, and Russians.
“There are some ex-KHL (Kontinental Hockey League) players. It’s awesome to see that skill level. The Russian style of hockey is amazing.”
Each team in the league has skill levels ranging from beer-league players up to two or three professional players who get paid to play.
“I learned to be see the ice better because when you play with ex-pros or guys used to playing in the Q (The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) or NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) you learn a lot,” said Campbell. “I’d be on the bench watching those first line guys and it was real learning experience.”
Playing against them was almost impossible.
“When a professional came down the ice on me I wouldn’t know what to do. They’d wheel around me, and they can shoot from anywhere.”
He says playing with older, highly skilled players helped his hockey IQ.
“They taught me a lot about patience, and one thing they emphasized a lot as a defenceman was deception.”
One thing they didn’t teach was checking. One reason is because of the wide range of skill level on each team, and the other reason is the hockey rinks.
Dubai has only two rinks.
“One rink is smaller than the rink here in Springhill and it doesn’t have Plexiglas, yet, hopefully in the near future they will get it.”
Thankfully, the other rink is much better.
“The other rink is inside the world’s biggest shopping mall and it’s an Olympic-sized rink. It’s really nice,” said Campbell. “It’s hard to get ice there because they make more money off of public skating, so all the ice we played on was at 6 a.m. or around that time.”
There is also no fighting.
“There’s no fighting because the government would get mad if we fought in front of the shoppers,” said Campbell.
The no checking rule has been a disadvantage to Campbell when playing with the Blues, but he hopes to adapt quickly to the Canadian style of hockey.
“Right now I’m not used to using my body as much as I could be. I’m not used to that style of play, but it will come,” said Campbell. “I definitely want to be more physical on the ice. I’d like to be a big hitter and rattle the opponents a little bit.”
Campbell is five-foot-eleven and weighs 180 pounds.
He says he’s an offensive defenceman.
“I love to carry the puck, I love to rush it out of our zone, I love to use my speed,” said Campbell. “I like to hustle and keep my feet moving.”
Campbell’s dad lives in Dubai and his mom recently moved to Toronto.
“My mom is worried about me playing here but my dad says I’ll have fun and wants me to make the most of it.”
Campbell enjoys life at Mount Allison and hopes to try out for the Ramblers in the future.
“I’m still figuring this whole Canadian hockey thing out but I’d like to make it to the Junior A level.”
He also hopes he can adapt to the cold weather.
“I haven’t touches snow in a while and I’m excited to play pond hockey or something like that.”