'Really hard to watch' Maple Leafs docuseries gives unprecedented look into an NHL franchise

·Editor, Yahoo Canada
·6 min read
TORONTO, ON - MAY 8: Jack Campbell #36 of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on against the Montreal Canadiens during the first period at the Scotiabank Arena on May 8, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)
Jack Campbell started his 2020-21 season unlike any other by going 11-0, setting both NHL and Maple Leafs records in net. (Credit: Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

When fans have a chance to watch the docuseries “All or Nothing: Toronto Maple Leafs”, they’ll likely be met with the same emotions as Jack Campbell.

“It's really hard to watch, especially knowing the end result: falling short in the playoffs,” says the Maple Leafs goalie to Yahoo Canada.

But there’ll also be a sense of appreciation from sports fans in general, after getting an inside look into one of the most storied franchises, with a type of docuseries that represents a first for the NHL. “All or Nothing: Toronto Maple Leafs” by Amazon Prime Video provides an all-access perspective into the inner workings of the team throughout the 2020-21 season, from how Campbell was able to captivate his teammates in the locker room, to Kyle Dubas’s general-manager office as he tried to shape a winning roster.

The doc doesn’t end with the Leafs winning their first Stanley Cup since 1967 — or even their first playoff series since 2004. Instead, for Campbell it became a docuseries to “reflect and learn from,” after his team gave up a 3-1 series lead to the Montreal Canadiens despite being the favourite as the North Division's top seed.

“It definitely leaves you motivated, to say the least. … At the end of the day, all you can do is look yourself in the mirror and work on what you got to get better, so that's what we're doing,” he says.

Steve Mayer, the NHL’s Chief Content Officer, says Amazon was focused on the Maple Leafs for the docuseries, because they’re a “storied franchise and obviously, their history of winning and losing … makes for a compelling story.”

Then there’s also the appeal factor of the team’s personalities, from Campbell to Auston Matthews and William Nylander, which will be on full display when the series premieres on Oct. 1.

Campbell says that viewers will see what type of demand they put on themselves to be great, and how much they “all truly love each other as teammates and brothers.”

The team’s camaraderie was especially apparent for Campbell when he set an NHL record with an 11-game win streak to start his 2020-21 season. Despite it being somewhat of a personal accomplishment, Campbell says the docuseries shows “how happy everybody is for each other.”

"You don't necessarily get that everywhere you go," he says.

Campbell remembers the moments he had with Matthews on the ice, where the alternative captain told him about how proud he was for overcoming the adversity he had gone through. By his 10th-straight win, a Maple Leafs record, it was Mitch Marner who came out to Campbell to celebrate by counting joyfully all the up to 10 with his fingers.

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 07: Toronto Maple Leafs Right Wing Mitchell Marner (16) congratulates Toronto Maple Leafs Goalie Jack Campbell (36) on his 10th win in a row to set a new franchise record after the NHL regular season game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 7, 2021, at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, ON, Canada. (Photo by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Mitchell Marner congratulates Jack Campbell on his 10th win in a row to set a new franchise record. (Credit: Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

For Campbell, he also fondly remembers when he would go back to the hotel and open his phone to see texts from Frederik Andersen, who was “just pumping me up and making me feel good.”

Campbell — who also went by the nickname "Soupy" — got the chance to step into a more prominent role in net after Andersen got injured. It was an important opportunity for Campbell, who had bounced around the NHL, American Hockey League and the third-tier ECHL, while also dealing with injuries after getting drafted as a lottery pick in 2010.

“I think it was a frustrating season for us both because we truly got along so well and pulled for one another,” says Campbell on his relationship with Andersen. “We just never really got to be together that much either. I was on the bench or he was on the bench, you know, supporting each other.”

The 2020-21 season gave everyone an opportunity to fall in love with Campbell, from his vibrant personality to go along with etching his name in the record-books . Mayer says that it wasn’t just because he could give a good interview, but it was his “happy-go-lucky” demeanour and determination to win, which captivated his teammates as he helped push them to their division's top seed.

There were concerns with how much they’d be able to display, but Mayer says the NHL provided more access than ever before. They showed situations from the process of players dealing with injuries to how Dubas secured Nick Foligno in a trade. The series also brings viewers into the room when the Leafs GM informs Jimmy Vesey that he's being waived, and the tough conversations head coach Sheldon Keefe has with players, such as after a playing-style dispute with Matthews made its way to the public-eye.

The docuseries — which also provides a sports-world perspective into the COVID-19 pandemic — does hold back on some of the more personal matters in the players’ lives. But what isn’t held back is the language, with f-bombs being dropped constantly. Mayer understands that kids may be watching, but they didn’t want to strip the series of “being real,” knowing it’s “part of the culture.”

It helps move the league away from the public opinion that NHL players are full of clichés and not very expressive, at least when speaking to the media.

“I hear that as well. And that’s why we love doing these shows to have that ability to show off these guys in a way that is the standard press conference after the game, mic in your face, giving cliché answers,” says Mayer.

An example is when Campbell gave his post-game speech to the Leafs locker room after securing his name in the team’s record books with a 10th-straight win, dishing out a simple and effective: “Great job everybody. … F*** yeah.” He’d then follow it up with a “I owe you guys, I love ya,” after securing his 11th.

Before joining the Leafs, Campbell had a chance to turn his mindset around with the Los Angeles Kings. He learned how to enjoy life and ultimately enjoy the game after the turmoil he faced throughout his career, where he didn’t live up to the standards he and others had set for him.

When the Leafs lost in Game 7 to the Habs, Campbell highlighted in his post-game interview that he allowed the “worst goal of [his] career,” one that he deemed “not acceptable.”

“I still have my standards. … It was tough after for a little bit but you live and you learn,” says Campbell. “We don't dwell on things we learn from and we move on and that's what we've done. I'm just really ready to get out there and be even better this season.”

With Anderson signing with the Carolina Hurricanes this offseason, it makes Campbell the clear favourite as the Leafs' go-to in net. Campbell says he's keeping his individual goals to himself, but wants to ultimately take a step of confidence by learning what he did wrong. That’s also the mindset he sees with his team, as the Maple Leafs look toward meeting their expectations in the 2021-22 campaign.

“We obviously have high, high goals.”

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