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Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell shuts down the Nashville Predators' Philip Tomasino during a game in Toronto on Nov. 16, 2021.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Maple Leafs’ fans have the warm and fuzzies for Jack Campbell, and it is no wonder.

Toronto’s goaltender threw a birthday soirée for his cat and posted a picture on Instagram of Buds the feline wearing a party hat. It is rare for Campbell not to have a smile plastered across his face and he is as authentic as a person could be. While teammates show a preference for French coffee, he says Tim Hortons is good enough for him. No fancy schmancy dinners either: his favourite restaurant is Red Lobster.

He cried after the loss to Montreal in Game 7 of the first round of the 2021 playoffs. Say what you will about others, but nobody doubts his commitment or effort.

On top of that, he has been the team’s most valuable player this season, so good that comparisons are starting to be made between him and all-timers Ed Belfour and Curtis Joseph. As the weekend arrived, he led NHL netminders in save percentage and goals-against average and was second in wins.

He was brought in during 2020 to be a backup to Frederik Andersen, and now in these parts the latter is quickly becoming Freddie Forgotten.

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After going 17-3-2 last season, Campbell is off to a 10-3-1 start. Any time a puck gets near him, spectators at Scotiabank Arena expect a big save and scream “Soup.” One fan created a meme for him that shows a brick wall in the goal crease, another in a Leafs sweater has posted videos on Twitter of himself guzzling down cans of chicken noodle.

He has been nothing but astonishing since he replaced the injured Andersen during the 2021 campaign.

“Coming into the season the question was if he could still do it as the No. 1 guy playing more frequently,” said Sheldon Keefe, the Toronto coach. “He has been consistent and he has been confident and as a result our team’s confidence is real high as well. He is a huge part of our success.”

Campbell has carried a heavier-than-expected load because of an injury to his backup, Petr Mrazek. He has been so good that he has possibly worked his way into contention for the U.S. Olympic team.

Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck is a no-brainer, while Anaheim’s John Gibson and Jonathan Quick of Los Angeles are also top candidates. So far, Campbell, who is from Port Huron, Mich., has outdone all three.

A total of 22 skaters and three goalies will be chosen for the team’s final roster from a preliminary list of 55 contenders as yet to be chosen.

Campbell said it has not even crossed his mind.

“Everyone knows what the schedule is like this year with the Olympic break,” Campbell, 29, said. “It is condensed and you have to work hard in practice and every other day you have a game. So there is really no time for me to think about anything other than what I am doing right now.

“As a player in the NHL you are competitive and you want to do the best for your team. So for now, I am just focused on being the best I can for the Maple Leafs.”

Campbell has played 14 of Toronto’s first 17 games and will almost certainly start again on Saturday night when Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins come to town. He already has three shutouts, including two in his past four games. In that stretch he has turned away 117 of 119 shots.

“The performance and the play in the net is one thing, but I’m watching him around the building and watching his interactions and watching how he handles the ups and downs that we’ve gone through,” Keefe said last week. “And he hasn’t changed one bit. He’s engaged in everything we’re doing. His personality has remained the same.

“That’s the stuff I’m most concerned about – and he’s been really good there.”

Campbell is nearing the end of a two-year contract at an average of US$1.65-million a season. He will undoubtedly get a big raise. Mrazek, his backup, makes US$3.8-million a year.

Campbell has played 14 of Toronto’s first 17 games and will almost certainly start again on Saturday night when Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins come to town.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

“I truly love it here,” Campbell said. “The guys have taken me in like I’ve been here my whole career. This is a special group and a special city. The fans are incredible. Any time they embrace me the way they have, it means a lot to me. There’s nothing more I’d love than to stay here.”

This week Campbell dragged a trophy constructed by goalie coach Steve Briere onto the ice during practice at the Ford Performance Centre. It looks a like Frankenstein, an odd part here, another there.

The winner of each day’s one-on-one shooting competition gets to keep it until the next day.

Keefe, who does not look like frivolity has ever paid him a visit, did not intercede.

Soup’s on right now.