BUFFALO-- Dave Cameron’s office inside the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Ont., is nothing fancy. On his desk sits a pencil sharpener, computer and a pile of neatly stacked papers.
On the wall behind the desk are photos of his friends, one from a charity golf tournament, and his family -- which include proud snaps of his wife Kelly and sons, Connor, 25, and Ben, 20.
There’s no cluttered mind here, no trinkets on display or anything particularly extravagant -- much like Team Canada’s head coach, his office is simple and efficient.
But dig a little deeper and you’ll find Cameron, like the office, is a slightly more complex than he likes to let on.
“He’s got his own filing system where no one knows where anything is except him,” says his Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors co-coach James Boyd with a laugh. “He’s very intelligent.”
One of the people that knows Cameron the best, from a hockey perspective, is Boyd, who is looking after the Ontario Hockey League club while the head coach is in Buffalo within one game of guiding the Canadian team to another gold medal at the World Junior Hockey Championship.
Boyd, 34, joined Cameron behind the Majors bench in the 2007-08 season, when the 52-year-old was let go from his head coaching stint with the AHL’s Binghamton Senators after the team failed to make the playoffs for a second straight season.
In the OHL, Cameron is widely regarded as an excellent tactician; under his tutelage, the Majors have never missed the playoffs and have always iced competitive teams. This season, Mississauga is one of the top teams in the country with a 29-6-0-1 record and a guaranteed Memorial Cup berth as the host team. The Canadian coach and his staff received a plethora of accolades after their charges played a highly disciplined, structured game in Monday’s dominant semifinal victory over the defending champion Americans.
Boyd believes there are a lot of similarities between the way Cameron runs the Majors and what he’s seen him do with Team Canada.
“Our style of play around here really emphasizes the simple,” says Boyd from his office in Mississauga. “We like to keep a close cap on teams and take away their time and space to try to stifle them in the defensive zone and pound the puck on the net in (the opposition’s) end.
“That’s what you’re seeing with Team Canada, it’s just that simple style of play. They’re a big team and a physical team and Dave will make adjustments as the games go on based on what other teams are doing. But his first focus is on the team that he’s coaching. He’s not a guy that worries an awful lot about what other coaches are doing, he’s more worried about what his guys are doing.”
Off the ice, Canadian forward Casey Cizikas -- who also serves as Cameron’s captain in Mississauga -- says he hasn’t noticed any differences in the way his coach has approached his task with the world junior team.
“He’s been the exact same, he hasn’t changed anything,” says Cizikas. “He might be more lenient in the offensive zone because he’s got some guys who can score, but he’s been the exact same and it’s been working.”
Not that the success has put a damper on Cameron’s drive -- or voice -- to bring home the team’s first gold since 2009.
“There’s been a couple times on the bench where he’s been yelling -- it might be limited now -- but if somebody has a bad shift or somebody’s not working out there, you’re definitely going to hear him from the bench,” says Cizikas.
During the tournament, Cameron has shown some of that same intensity during his press conferences. At times, he can be elusive and terse when dealing with the media hordes – if he doesn’t appreciate a question he’ll let you know it, as reporter Mike Harrington from the Buffalo News found out on Tuesday morning during one exchange. When Cameron evaded the initial questions about Canada’s rich history of playing against Russia, Harrington kept pressing, eventually asking: “You’re the coach of the Canadian national team, and you have no thoughts on the rivalry?”
“Oh, I do,” replied Cameron. “But I’m not going to share it now because it’s nothing to do with my preparation for the game tomorrow. If you want to talk history after, come on over, I’ll gladly express it and tell you what I think. But it has nothing to do with my team and getting ready. A lot of these guys, you can’t go back five, six years and mention hockey. They don’t know. So I’m not going to give them the history lesson now.”
Harrington in a later blog post referred to Cameron as “condescending” and “boring at times,” while another reporter asked aloud earlier in the week if Cameron had received his media training from the Russian KGB. And there’s no doubt that’s how he looks to those who aren’t familiar with his personality.
But when he lets his guard down, Cameron can be quite charming and funny. When his Majors played out of the old St. Michael’s College School Arena in downtown Toronto, he would regularly hold court with the few OHL reporters covering his team -- freely discussing everything from his dislike of celebrity train wrecks like Britney Spears to offering unsolicited parenting advice.
“He has a very good sense of humour, he tells some bad jokes sometimes,” says Boyd. “Our (players) see both sides … He’s not a curmudgeon by any stretch.
“When it’s time to work, he’s deadly serious. When it’s time for a little down time, he can joke around with the best of them, but he takes his job extremely seriously and he works very hard at maintaining an atmosphere of professionalism.”
Dealing with Cameron as a general manager can sometimes be just as frustrating since he’s not the type to haggle over players or picks, preferring instead to take a direct approach. He takes trading his teens very seriously, given the upheaval they face moving to a new town and school.
“Dave’s not one for a lot of back and forth,” says Boyd. “If he’s looking to make a deal, generally he makes an offer and it’s usually his best offer -- if it doesn’t work out, he doesn’t lose any sleep over it.
“He’d be an awful car salesman.”
Thankfully for the Majors, that career choice was never in his plans. After playing 168 games in the NHL as a role player with New Jersey and Colorado, he retired in order to earn a business degree. After that, Cameron was hired as a youth worker at a young offender’s facility before getting his Master’s in education and working as a high school guidance counsellor.
A lot of Cameron’s work ethic was developed as a child in his native Kinkora, P.E.I., where family, religion, education and sports all played a pivotal role in the community. He remembers his school on the island closing so that the children could work the farmers’ fields. Like hockey, it was a team approach with everyone pitching in to get the job done.
“There was a real appreciation for a day’s work,” says Cameron, whose father Wilbur was the quartermaster of the ferry linking P.E.I to New Brunswick. “Growing up in a farming community, they were always looking for help. ... When I was in my elementary and high school years, my school used to shut down for two weeks in October and that was so you could go and help the farmers dig their potatoes.”
If you need to find Cameron in the off-season, chances are he’ll be at home on the island -- which is where he was when Hockey Canada officially announced he would be head coach of the world junior squad back in June.
“I’m here in God’s country,” he replied when asked where he was.
No big Toronto press conference?
“That’s not my style.”
Still, after every game Cameron coaches, he calls his sons, not to tell them about his own exploits, but rather to find out how they have fared with their hockey -- Connor is an assistant coach with the Notre Dame Hounds in Saskatchewan and Ben is a winger with the Pictou County (N.S.) Weeks Crushers of the Maritime Junior Hockey League.
“I think of Dave as almost the guy who drives his car off the road thinking about the power play,” says Boyd. “But in the summer when he has the opportunity to go back home to P.E.I. and spend time with his family, I don’t think he’s the guy who thinks about hockey.”
Cameron is an avid fitness buff -- though he enjoys a good glass of wine -- as well as being a voracious reader. He particularly enjoys reading histories and stories that involve the perseverance of the human spirit -- like the book Lone Survivor written by U.S Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell. The book is a first-person account of being the only member of his unit to survive a fire-fight with Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.
“He’s interested in people who have endured tremendous hardship or have come out of difficult situations -- the strength of the human mind,” says Boyd. “How people can withstand such tremendous pressure or stress.”
Regardless what happens in the final on Wednesday, Cameron might have enough material from the past month to write his own book.