Ottawa 67’s general manager James Boyd was bouncing potential coaching candidates off his longtime friend Dave Cameron when Boyd took a flyer.
“All of a sudden I asked the question, ‘Would you ever be interested in this?'” Boyd said. “There was a pause and Dave said, ‘Let me think about it.’ I thought, ‘This might be happening.'”
It previously hadn’t occurred to Boyd that Cameron and his wife Kelly would be interested in leaving Vienna, where Cameron had coached the Austrian League’s Capitals for three seasons.
Head coach of the 67’s and the Canadian junior men’s hockey team simultaneously opened up in early summer when Andre Tourigny vacated both to step behind the bench of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes.
Boyd also leads Hockey Canada’s under-20 management team, which had less than a month between Tourigny’s departure and summer evaluation camp to replace him.
Boyd said antennae went up at Hockey Canada when he was informed Cameron might be the next 67’s coach.
Returning to Canada quickly became a package deal for Cameron with the offer of the national junior job as well.
“I never applied for it,” Cameron told The Canadian Press. “When they asked me, I made sure I said ‘yes’ before they changed their mind.”
Canada is scheduled to open the 2022 world junior championship Sunday against the Czechs in Edmonton’s Rogers Place.
Cameron returns as the national men’s under-20 head coach 11 years after overseeing it to a silver medal in Buffalo, N.Y.
Canada led 3-0 after two periods, but the Russians scored five in the third period for the title.
The longtime coach of the OHL’s St. Michael’s Majors went on to gather a plethora of experiences ranging from minor pro head coach to NHL head coach and assistant to men’s world championship assistant to a European’s club’s head coach before returning to major junior.
“When I started coaching, I wanted to make it to that to the highest level,” Cameron said. “That’s something I aspired to as a player, something I aspired to as a coach. I was fortunate in both cases to do it.
“Any time you’re in the best league in the world and you’re coaching the best players, as long as you keep an open mind, you’re going to get better.”
The 63-year-old from Kinkora, P.E.I., played centre in 168 NHL games totalling 25 goals and 28 assists for Colorado Rockies and New Jersey Devils between 1981 and 1983.
In the interlude between his playing and coaching careers, Cameron completed university degrees in business and education.
He worked with young offenders and as a high-school guidance counsellor in his home province before entering the coaching ranks.
An Ottawa Senators assistant coach for four years, Cameron was promoted to head coach a quarter-season into 2014-15 when Paul McLean was fired.
The Senators didn’t bring Cameron back after missing the playoffs in 2016, so he headed west to join the Calgary Flames coaching staff.
Cameron took the Vienna job after the Flames purged most of their coaching staff in the spring of 2018.
“Life is tough,” Cameron said. “Look at this COVID. Life is going to give you a couple kicks in the rear end. I don’t think it matters what profession you’re in. I think a big reason you survive and have success is if you do have that thick skin.
“All through my two experiences with Ottawa and Calgary, I felt I learned a ton and was very fortunate to be at the highest level.
“If you put your work in, you let your body of work stand and it takes you where ever it takes you.”
While the offer to coach the Canadian juniors again was unexpected, there’s not a lot in hockey that surprises Coach Cameron now.
Boyd has known Cameron since the latter hired Boyd onto the Majors staff in 2005.
“When he lays it all out there, it is a wide range of experiences,” Boyd said. “Dave’s been taking bits and pieces and what worked from the past and putting those tools in our tool box.
“He’s still a taskmaster though. Away from the rink, Dave’s a little bit more mellow. I wouldn’t say it’s a kinder, more gentler Dave, but it’s maybe a wiser, more experienced Dave.”
Cameron’s son Connor is executive director of Hockey P.E.I.
Another son Ben is a doctor who has served as team physician for Canada’s para hockey team.
Cameron cares about how players fare off the ice as much as they do on the ice, according to Boyd.
“Dave is really passionate about junior. He’s not interested in only player development. He’s a fierce advocate of education. He’s interested in what are the players doing? The 67’s do a lot of community service. Dave is interested in that,” the GM said.
“I think it goes back to when he used to work with young offenders and troubled youth in Prince Edward Island. He really believes with the right support and structure while being demanding, people are at their very best.”