Mississauga’s St. Michael’s Majors will win or lose the Memorial Cup Championship as a consequence of one mastermind and a new group of talents who must find their chemistry in a few months Words by Roger Lajoie and photography by Dan Ho
Dave Cameron manages a little smile and a nod of the head when somebody compliments him on the job he’s done building the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors this season.
It’s not that the General Manager/Coach of the 2011 MasterCard Memorial Cup hosts doesn’t appreciate the kind words, it’s just that the “this season” part doesn’t really tell the story.
“This has been a three-year building plan actually,” Cameron says. “You can’t build a team that can compete for a Memorial Cup in just one season, it takes longer than that.
“We like what we have here now though.”
He should. The Majors are currently the No. 2 ranked team in the Canadian Hockey League and have the best record in the Ontario Hockey League as they look to enter the tournament as OHL champions, not just as Memorial Cup hosts.
Cameron is renowned as a coach that emphasizes team defence, hard work and contributions from all four lines and every defenceman. He also builds his teams from the net out, looking for a quality goalie to play in front of a team that is responsible at both ends of the ice.
“If insisting that everybody is responsible with the puck at all times, then I guess I’m a defensive coach,” Cameron, the head coach of Team Canada at the world junior hockey championships, says. “I’ve always believed any team’s strength starts in goal and your goaltender is always better when the players in front of him buy in.” The Majors have one of the best goalies in the league in J.P. Anderson. A second round draft pick in 2008, Anderson has developed into a bona fide No. 1 OHL goalie and is at the top of all OHL goaltending statistical categories this season.
His back-up is Mickael Audette, who was picked up from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds who plucked him off the roster of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL. Audette was considered a solid goalie playing on a very poor team and a more than capable back-up goalie.
The defence corps is where Cameron’s team building abilities really shine, as it is a unit that’s a combination of draft picks and shrewd pick-ups that have resulted in what many people feel is the best overall group in the OHL.
Marc Cantin was acquired from the Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires in the off-season and Michael D’Orazio was a deadline deal pick-up from the London Knights. Those two veterans are the anchors.
Brett Fleming, Dylan DeMelo, Stuart Percy and Alex Cord were all Majors draft picks, while David Corrente came over in a deal from Oshawa a couple of seasons ago. It’s a great mix of veterans and younger players that will provide plenty of protection for Anderson down the stretch and into the playoffs.
“I’ve always believed you build teams from the back- end and we really like the defensive corps we have in place now,” Cameron says.
Cameron’s mix of his own draft picks and trades is also evident when you break down the team’s forward mix as well. In many ways he’s built the front end of this Memorial Cup contender the same way as he’s built the back end.
Captain Casey Cizikas, Devante Smith-Pelly, Jordan Mayer, Riley Brace, Rob Flick, Joseph Cramarossa, Corey Bureau and Derek Schoenmakers all came to the club via the draft. At various times Cameron has added Justin Shugg (who came with Cantin from Windsor before the season), Chris DeSousa (another deadline deal pic-up from London), Gregg Sutch and Jamie Wise via the trade route.
They picked up sensational Russian forward Maxim Kitsyn in the CHL Import Draft, with the Los Angeles Kings prospect finally agreeing to join the club after the world junior hockey championships and forward Mika Partanen also came as an import selection.
The result is a unique combination of highly skilled and team first players that is clearly poised to be a serious Memorial Cup contender, even if the Majors didn’t have an automatic bye into the tournament as hosts.
While there are no guarantees that Mississauga can win the OHL title, never mind the Memorial Cup, the team has clearly been built to contend. Majors owner Eugene Melynk, who also owns the Ottawa Senators, gives all the credit to Cameron.
“What can I say about Dave, he’s the best coach in junior hockey in my mind,” Melnyk says. “He coached in the American Hockey League for me at Binghampton and I asked him as a favour to come back to junior and he does it.
“How many guys can you say would do that? He’s done a terrific job for me here and he could easily be working at a higher level.”
Cameron is equally quick to salute Melnyk as an owner, especially in the freedom he has given him to hire a great staff to work around him.
“It starts with ownership because Eugene has allowed me to hire some quality people,” Cameron says. “James Boyd (Associate GM and Coach), Jim Cassidy (Director of Player Personnel) and Lou Vigilante (Head Scout), they are really, really good at what they do.
“We as coaches are as good as our players are and the staff around me have identified and found some really good players that we’ve been lucky enough to have brought in here. That’s made all the difference.” So if anyone asks what the secret is to building a championship calibre team, what is Dave Cameron’s answer?
“If you are going to win a championship you have to win four rounds, and you can’t do that without depth,” Cameron says. “It helps guard you against injuries as well when you have depth.
“I’ve always played four lines and six D and in the long run I believe that will pay off for us. There’s two ways to win, with star players and with depth and it’s not too often you have both on the same team.
“There’s no blueprint for success, it’s a process. We have a way of doing things here and we look for a certain kind of player that will buy in and we’ve done what we can to put the pieces in place.
“We like the team we’ve built here.”
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