Bruno Campese sounded a little worse for wear. He’d only slept a little, and wasn’t entirely sure when the partying ended.
But that’s what happens when you win a Stanley Cup.
The Nelson native was on the ice Tuesday after the Vegas Golden Knights won their first NHL championship. Campese, who was among the first employees hired by the then-expansion team in 2016 and has since served as its Kelowna-based scout, was given his moment to lift the Cup.
“To be in the environment and the rink was just absolutely insane,” said Campese. “Then on the ice, no one was in a hurry. It was so surreal to just wander around the ice bumping into people and fans and family.”
Campese took the long route to the Cup.
He played goal for the Nelson Leafs from 1977 to 1979 and was selected 249th overall in the 1982 draft by the Boston Bruins. The following year he won a Memorial Cup with the Portland Winterhawks, but never set a skate in the NHL.
Instead Campese went to play in Italy, which he competed for at the 1994 Winter Games as well as three world championships, before returning to the Leafs as a head coach in 2000.
In junior hockey he thrived, working as a head coach with the BCHL’s Trail Smoke Eaters and Penticton Vees and in the WHL as an assistant with the Calgary Hitmen before joining the Prince Albert Raiders as head coach in 2007.
Campese was the Raiders’ general manager in 2016 when he received a call from the Golden Knights’ newly appointed assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon, who had just been hired by the team from the Brandon Wheat Kings. McCrimmon asked Campese if he wanted to help build a new NHL team.
“You’re always hoping that you get an opportunity to work in the NHL, and I’m very fortunate for that to happen,” said Campese. “Then when you’re there, the only thing on your mind is can you have some type of small input to try to help a team win a Stanley Cup.”
Campese recalled the first Vegas meeting only had about 16 staff in the entire franchise. The next year the Golden Knights filled their roster with the expansion draft, selected Portland’s Cody Glass with their first pick in the entry draft (Campese helped scout Glass), then stunned the league by playing in the Cup final in their inaugural season.
Vegas lost that year to the Washington Capitals, but Campese said the franchise learned from the experience.
“Washington had stars and they had depth. That was one of the things that was a blueprint for us. How do we go about acquiring that and what do we need to do?”
In the following years, Vegas has earned a reputation for swinging big on trades by sending away draft picks and prospects. Campese said he’s proud for helping the team draft quality players who also helped the Golden Knights land stars like Mark Stone and Jack Eichel.
“If you don’t have those players who other teams want, you can’t make those deals. All those guys have had an amazing impact on the team.”
Now that he’s lifted the Cup, Campese will only have a couple days off before the team begins the work of defending it.
Preparations begin again for the Golden Knights this week ahead of the entry draft, which is held June 28 to 29 in Nashville. Campese won’t return home to Kelowna until July, but that’s the price of winning.
“It’s going to be a long ride here. After a few days here of having some fun we’ve got to get down to business.”