By ROY LANG III, Journal Sports
Coaches coach. For most, the switch is on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s just in their blood.
Jason Campbell’s family used to get their shots in. “(Daughter) Maddie would say, ‘OK, here comes the lecture or the pep talk from coach.’”
However, never has the Shreveport Mudbugs’ head coach needed to take his day job home more than the past nine months. Wife, Shanda, and children Maddie, Cade and Aly have needed the positivity Campbell — known as “Soupy” to most — loves to spread on the ice and in the locker room.
While Campbell led the Mudbugs to a Robertson Cup championship in Minnesota in April, Shanda, was in Little Rock, Arkansas undergoing a battery of tests in an attempt to understand why she’d felt bad for months.
Eventually, Shanda was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood.
“It’s tough watching the person you love struggle,” Jason Campbell said.
The Mudbugs’ offseason was brief, the thorn on the rose of winning a national championship.
Jason Campbell missed the first day of training camp for the 2021-22 season as he was at his wife’s side.
Campbell’s absences were plentiful as the Mudbugs tried to build a team to defend the Cup and Shanda endured a stem cell transplant.
“The team has been awesome, unreal to where you don’t feel guilty going to Arkansas for three weeks at a time or three days at a time for treatments,” Campbell said.
But Campbell never stopped coaching — the Mudbugs or the people who matter most.
“It’s attitude,” Campbell said. “It’s easy for me to say since I’m not the one getting poked and prodded and biopsied. But if she’s not feeling well or is depressed, me feeling that way isn’t going to help things. You have to win the day.
“When I walked in the joke was, “Cinderella is here, ready to wait on you hand and foot.’”
The effects of cancer can be devastating, but one product of the scary situation was the rekindling of the love between best friends of two-plus decades.
Jason and Shanda met via Mudbugs hockey. Shanda is a local, a Jonesboro product who fell in love with a hockey player from Orangeville, Ontario, Canada, signed by the Mudbugs in 1999.
Shanda’s cancer helped them to spend three weeks in a row for the first time in years.
“We had a good time, Jason Campbell said. “As hard as the situation was, we got to take advantage of it in a weird kind of way. We got along great.”
Campbell also found solace in his time with his hockey team.
“There’s so much going on at the rink,” he said. “So much banter, just joking with the boys — you don’t forget (about the gravity of Shanda’s situation), but it’s just a refresher and you’re ready to go back home and deal with things.”
Thanks to a successful stem cell transplant and chemotherapy, Shanda Campbell is on the mend.
Now, the Mudbugs (12-14-4) need to rally.
The franchise endured its worst start in its 25-year history, but Campbell and his players don’t believe It was a product of inconsistencies due to absences by Campbell.
The Mudbugs have plenty of coaching power, including general manager and former head coach Scott Muscutt (the first player signed by the organization prior to its inaugural season of 1997), goaltenders coach Rich Parent (a former NHL netminder) and associate head coach Gavin Morgan.
“Some guys only had a month off after winning the championship,” Campbell said. “Those are guys we planned to lean on heavily this season. And some guys weren’t healthy yet. Guys who hadn’t won a title before had to come down from that. It’s tough to handle being a champion and the next thing you know, you’re back at it and you have a big target on your back.”
Coincidence or not, Shanda’s improvement has allowed Campbell to be around the rink more and the Mudbugs are playing their best hockey.
They recently ripped off a six-game winning streak to get back into playoff contention.
“Watching Soupy is inspiring for me,” Mudbugs assistant captain Billy Fezcko said. “I show up at the rink every day and he’s already there with a smile on his face ready to go and ready to attack the day. You know everything he’s going through and we’re a little more energetic and excited to see him.”
Shreveport forward Jake Onstott understands how hockey serves as a welcomed distraction for his coach. Last season, Onstott’s mother, Julie, suffered a stroke.
“I drove to Dallas and headed home, not knowing if she’s going to live or die,” Onstott said. “It all worked out, but it was so awesome getting texts from the guys and coaches.
“Soupy is one of the strongest guys I’ve ever met, one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever played for. When he was gone, we told him we were playing hard for your wife, but it’s so amazing to have him back. We really love Soupy and things wouldn’t be the same without him.”
Shanda made her season debut at George’s Pond at Hirsch Coliseum after Christmas.
“She freezes her butt off, the temperature in my house is set at like 80 degrees, but she enjoyed getting out,” Campbell said.
Shreveport is back in action as its hosts Corpus Christi tonight and Saturday at The George (puck drop for both games, 7:11 p.m.).
Mudbugs Nation has not disappointed during the Campbells’ tough times. Whether it’s the hundreds of “Shanda Strong” bracelets in the building, or getting stopped in a local restaurant, the support has been unwavering and comes as no surprise.
“They’re just spreading their love,” Campbell said. They’ll grab be after a game and ask how Shanda is doing and say, ‘do you mind if we pray for you?’
“I expect that from them. It’s nice to know you have so many people supporting you.”
Photo by TERI JOHNSON