Steve Kampfer grew up in Jackson, and learned to play hockey well enough to earn a scholarship to the University of Michigan. He was a good student and a good player on some very good days, but few expected Kampfer to make it to the NHL. I confess that I was one of them.
What chance he had seemed to vanish on an October night in 2008, when he was leaving a campus bar. He started jawing with another student, who happened to be on the wrestling team. Things got hot, but it was all just talk, until the wrestler picked up Kampfer and turned him upside in a single, sudden move – then dropped him head first on the sidewalk.
Kampfer lay there unconscious, with blood sliding out of his mouth. His stunned friend thought he might be dead.
They rushed Kampfer to the hospital, where they discovered he’d suffered a closed head injury and a severe skull fracture, near his spine. He woke up on a flatboard, his head in a neck brace and tubes running out of his body.
His coach, Red Berenson, talked to him about the possibility – even the likelihood – that he would never play hockey again. The goal was simply to make a full recovery, but they wouldn’t know that for three months.
Kampfer was a student in my class at the time, which met twice a week at 8:30 in the morning – not the most popular hour for college students. Just one week after the incident, at 8:30 Monday morning, Steve Kampfer walked back into my class, wearing a neckbrace. He never discussed the injury. He never made any excuses. He never missed a single class.