Kristin Kampfer wasn't there the night her brother, Steven, lifted the Stanley Cup. She was separated from him by an entire continent, left to watch the Bruins triumph in Game 7 on her TV in Florida. But Kristin's relationship with her younger brother was never measured in miles. It has always been measured in phone calls, in pep talks, and in hospital visits. Every athlete has an inspiration, driving him on to greatness, but the Bruins defenseman has someone by his side who has been through more than just about any teammate, friend, or spouse. You see, Kristin Kampfer's heart has stopped three different times.
Steven Kampfer is not Zdeno Chara or Andrew Ference or any of the big-name B's blueliners. But his dream is just as big, and it's been that way since he was a 5-year-old racing up and down his family's driveway in Jackson, Mich., on roller blades, screaming at the top of his lungs.
"He shoots -- he scores -- Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Cup is coming back home!"
Was it coming back home? Kristin wasn't sure, as Steven didn't play in his team's Game 7 win over the Vancouver Canucks. He only played in 38 games last season, three fewer than the number needed to get your name on hockey's holy grail.
So Kristin's eyes stayed glued to the television in her condominium in Florida as the seconds ticked off the clock in British Columbia. With the Boston Bruins holding a 4-0 third period lead over favored Vancouver, Kristin's heart pounded. Even after the game ended, she waited and worried.
"Oh my gosh, oh my gosh," Kristin kept repeating.
Even after the Bruins had clinched their first Stanley Cup since 1972, Kristin's eyes remained fixated on the screen, unsure of whether or when Steven would take part in the ultimate hockey tradition.
Finally, Steven -- a rookie who had been an emergency mid-season call-up by the Bruins -- got his chance to hoist the 35-pound Stanley Cup over his head, reliving the moment the little boy in a driveway had so many years before back home in Michigan.
Kristin began to well up. "This was Steven’s moment to shine," Kristin says. "It was all him."
But that's the thing. It had never been about just him. It had been about years' worth of life lessons that made a family's Stanley Cup moment so cherished. And when it was decided that Steven would get a day with the Cup, it was no surprise where he would take it.
C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich. is where Kristin endured 29 major surgeries after being born with multiple anomalies -- a rare syndrome that includes heart defects and scoliosis. Doctors told her parents she wouldn't live a week after she was born. When she did, she became known as the "Miracle Kid."
But the miracles -- and the hardships -- were only beginning.
The Kampfers became a staple at Mott's, often spending 10 days at a time there after one of Kristin's surgeries. She had to have a titanium rod inserted into her back, and she had to have her ankle broken only to have it reset. On three different occasions, doctors told her parents she "coded," meaning she was dying. Each time, surgeons somehow brought her back.
"Steven grew up in and out, in and out of that hospital watching his sister go through all the trials and tribulations," says Kristin’s mom, Karyn Kampfer. "He feels pretty doggone blessed he hasn’t had to face them, but he has always said, 'If it wasn’t for that place, I wouldn’t have a sister.'"
During his freshman year of high school, Steven recalls being picked up by his parents and making the 35-mile trip from Jackson to Ann Arbor, where Kristin would undergo yet another appointment. During each visit, Steven couldn't shake the images of the faces he saw in every room and corridor. But he also took note of the way athletes from the nearby University of Michigan took time out of their day to spend time with patients.
"That's something that definitely touched home for me," Kampfer says. "I knew if I ever did anything with my life, I wanted to give something back because Mott had done so much to give my sister a better life."
All these years later, Kristin is still considered a Miracle Kid -- more than ever. She turned 25 in February, and is holding down a job in Florida, helping people with learning and physical impairments find meaningful work. Doctors once said she would never hear or speak, but she can now do both.
"She has heart, she has resilience," Karyn Kampfer says. "She has a purpose."
Part of that purpose was guiding her brother, 2 ½ years younger than she is. For Steven Kampfer would endure some trauma of his own.
In the early-morning hours of Oct. 12, 2008, Kampfer was walking across Michigan's central campus as a student when he was assaulted, picked up and body-slammed to the ground by a former walk-on football player.
According to police reports and court testimony, the football player -- Mike Milano -- didn't care for the way Kampfer handled himself during an argument with his girlfriend at a local bar that night..
Milano, who was charged with felonious assault and later acquitted, followed Kampfer with two friends down the street. After his friends shoved the two men walking with Kampfer to the side, Milano -- a high school wrestler -- allegedly grabbed Kampfer and threw him to the ground head-first. Kampfer, who was found unconscious after the attack, suffered a fractured skull and serious neck injuries.
Kampfer acknowledged during court testimony that he was drinking that night, but says he wasn't drunk enough to cloud his memory. He recalled being hoisted into the air, and the next thing he remembered was waking up in the hospital.
Red Berenson, Michigan's coach since 1984, was among the first to visit Kampfer the next morning. He walked into Kampfer's room, where the defenseman's neck was being stabilized by a halo. Berenson, the father of two rehabilitation nurses, understood the possibilities.
"At that moment, I was just worried about the kid," Berenson says. "I didn’t know if he was going to be paralyzed, if he would be limited, if he would ever play hockey again. It was a serious moment."
Kampfer missed 16 games over the next two months. But there was more hardship to come.
During a 5-3 victory over rival Michigan State in late January 2009, Kampfer was knocked out of the game after being punched by one player in the head and then hit in the neck with a stick by another after he had made a clean open ice hit on one of the opposing players moments earlier.
Both Michigan State players were suspended for the rest of the season and while the injury didn't cause Kampfer to miss significant time, it was another jolt.
Still, Kampfer used his sister’s tribulations to put his own in perspective.
"I have always said she is the strongest person I know," Kampfer says. "I would see all the stuff she had to go through and I saw how strong she was. Because of that, she has been someone I have always looked up to."
Just like Kampfer had always been there for his sister, she was there for him. She would drive up frequently from Toledo, where she attended school at Bowling Green. Once in Ann Arbor, she and Kampfer would talk or go out for a meal. Kristin did her best to prepare her younger brother for the road he faced.
"I just wanted to be there for him," Kristin says. "I didn't say anything special to him. I just wanted to be there for him because he had always been there for me and didn't make me feel any different."
Again, he never forgot it -- not in the bad times and certainly not in times of great celebration.
That brings us back to Game 7.
Despite battling injuries during his 38 regular-season games when he scored five goals and registered five assists, Kampfer -- who did not appear in a playoff game -- took his turn with The Cup.
"That's every kid's who play hockey dream," Kampfer says. "To win the Cup, to lift the trophy and skate your victory lap is something that's exciting."
Then, for two hours on a Thursday morning last week, Steven Kampfer got to bring the Cup home. He posed for pictures in his hometown as fans sidled up to the trophy, touching it, kissing it. Kampfer scribbled his name with a black Sharpie onto photocopied pictures of his Game 7 victory lap. Fans donated $10 for each photo, with a chunk of the proceeds going to the hospital where the Kampfers spent so much time.
This time, Kristin was there, having flown in from Florida to share in her brother's hockey homecoming.
Kampfer was able to participate in the tradition of taking the Cup home without knowing whether his name will be included on the Cup itself. Players must appear in 41 regular-season games or make one Stanley Cup Finals appearance to have their name etched on the trophy.
On the flight back to Boston from Vancouver, however, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli assured Kampfer that the franchise would petition the NHL to have the defenseman's name included with his teammates.
A final decision will be made in September, but the gesture means a lot to Kampfer.
"It's a good feeling to have that feeling and know you helped contribute," he says.
Like with everything else in life, though, Steven Kampfer keeps things in perspective. He learned that from Kristin.
"I was just so proud of him -- more proud than I had ever been," she says. "It meant so much just because the team had gone through much. The team had gone through so much and he had gone through so much."
It was a miracle season for Steven Kampfner, inspired by his sister, the Miracle Kid.
-- Jeff Arnold can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @jeff_arnold24.
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