Dave Cameron knows that the Ontario Hockey League has changed during his 10 years away, but he also knows that he’s stayed on top of those changes.
“I think the biggest change is the young men that you’re going to work with,” said the newly-minted Ottawa 67’s head coach, “The younger generation is continually evolving. Hockey always changes a bit, but it doesn’t matter what level you’re at. When you’re in hockey, you keep up with the changes.”
The 63 year-old Cameron was named the Barber Poles’ new bench boss on July 21, taking over for his friend, Andre Tourigny, who accepted a head coaching job with the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes. Not only did Tourigny give his successor’s coaching credentials a glowing endorsement, but he also referred to Cameron as “one of the best humans I have ever met.”
It’s a homecoming of sorts for Cameron, who previously spent five seasons behind the bench of the Ottawa Senators – including a stint as their head coach from 2014 to 2016 – after a wildly successful 10-season tenure with the Soo Greyhounds from 1997 to 1999, and Toronto/Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors from 2000 to 2004, and 2007 to 2011. Cameron has only missed the playoffs once in his OHL career, and failed to make the third round of the playoffs on just four occasions.
Even still, the Charlottetown, P.E.I. native has no illusions about the challenges of preparing for this season. The 67’s haven’t played a game since March 10, 2020, and there will be a myriad of new faces around The Arena at TD Place in 2021-22. Cameron’s approach to the difficult circumstances centres on taking things as they come.
“Well I don’t think I’ve ever coached a team that’s been off this long, so I think that the challenge of it is it’s going to really test our patience,” he said, “To get back up to speed, you have to play. You have to get back at it, you have to practice, you have to get into the daily routine again. That takes time.”
“I think there’s going to be some unknowns that are going to pop up that we didn’t think of that affect us, but I think it’s good to go through this year, because now you have a whole group that are probably at the same starting point.”
It’s that patience that may very well go a long way. The 67’s are coming off of back-to-back first place finishes in the Eastern Conference, and after an OHL Final appearance in 2019, they were favourites to win their first Robertson Cup since 2001 before the COVID-19 pandemic halted the 2020 season.
The Barber Poles return as a much younger team, but with the return of high-end talent in names like Jack Matier, Jack Beck, Cameron Tolnai, and Will Cranley, and an infusion of youthful exuberance with the likes of first-round picks Chris Barlas and Luca Pinelli, there are plenty of reasons for optimism in 2021 and beyond.
“We’re going to continue the culture here of being a team that plays fast, plays hard, a puck possession team,” said Cameron, “That’s what we’re hoping to evolve into.”
As the 67’s officially open training camp today, the prevailing theme appears to be “new beginnings”. A new coach, a fair amount of new players, and finally a new season, as the fog of COVID-19 begins to lift, at least from the hockey world. For Cameron, however, the OHL is familiar territory, even after a decade split between coaching in the NHL, and Austria’s Vienna Capitals.
A return to Ottawa is just the icing on the cake.
“It’s great to be back. A lot of great experiences in this city, a lot of friends, both [my wife Kelly] and I have friends here, Kelly’s really big in the yoga community, so it’s an easy fit,” Cameron said, “It was a tough decision to leave Europe, because I enjoyed Europe and things were good there. But it was going to take a special job to bring me back, and I consider this job special.”