Majors coach doing double duty

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:59 AM ET

There are two big questions in junior hockey this year.

Can a Memorial Cup held in Mississauga be a success? And will the Canadian world junior team bounce back to win gold at the mid-season tournament in Buffalo?

Mississauga St. Michael's Majors GM and head coach Dave Cameron, in an unforgettable and pressure-packed season, will try to win both.

His Cup hosts start the OHL season this week as the top-ranked team in the Canadian Hockey League.

In December, he'll guide the Canadian juniors in their highly-publicized quest to avenge last year's overtime loss to the United States in Saskatoon.

That's a huge year under the spotlight's glare for the intensely driven coach from tiny, rural Kinkora, Prince Edward Island.

Just win both, baby.

"It's a busy time right now, but my core guys in Mississauga are an older group who've been with me two years and I think they'll enjoy the three-week break (from him) when I'm with the world junior team," Cameron said. "I'm able to do this because of the great staff we have in place (with the Majors) and owner Eugene Melnyk.

"I'll have to take myself away from our club team (for nearly a month) and I'm not a person who's afraid to delegate. With the world juniors in Buffalo, which is only an hour-and-a-half away from here, so logistically, it works out pretty well."

Only one other man -- double duty Don Hay in 1995 -- has done what Cameron will attempt. The current Vancouver Giants coach in the Western Hockey League won the Memorial Cup on home ice with the Kamloops Blazers and world junior gold with Canada that year.

"It was a very memorable, rewarding season," Hay said, "and what I learned that Dave will find out, too, is the time you're gone from your club team, you have to remove yourself from the process. It's near the trade deadline and you want to be involved, but you have to trust in your people and I was fortunate to be able to do that. You're busy enough with Hockey Canada and it requires your full attention while you're there.

"Sure, you'll check the scores and call back to see how they're doing, but while you're with Canada, you can't be focused on anything else."

In today's dynamic OHL, that's not so easy to do.

The chase for top teenaged talent is an endless merry-go-round of expert drafting, trades, relentless recruiting against American leagues and NCAA schools, securing transfers for import players and dancing to the whim of an NHL searching for young and cheap labour to play right away.

The season can be so long -- from international assignments to special event games to the grind of the OHL schedule and playoffs -- that the league curbed its all-star game for the first time since 1996.

Junior hockey now is nothing like it was even in Hay's Kamloops days or back to Cornwall's Bob Kilger trying to win both Cup and gold in 1981 when new Barrie Colts boss Dale Hawerchuk was his star Royals forward.

This season, the OHL will employ a four-man (two referee) officiating team for every game so eight new refs had to be hired from a heavily-scouted pool of stripes. Over 600 of the league's regular-season games will be broadcast on TV.

There has been a drug education plan that includes testing for the past four years -- "it's overseen by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport and they're elated with the program we have in place," OHL commissioner David Branch said.

This is a league Branch contends has managed to weather the challenges of the North American economy. He cited Windsor, maybe the hardest impacted city, as a remarkable attendance success story. But no one's worrying about the fan bases in places such as top contenders Windsor, London and Kitchener.

There are still a few rinks -- like Mississauga's Cup home at the Hershey Centre -- that struggle to draw.

"We know that Toronto is a Leafs town for the most part," Branch said, "but we still believe there's a place for a junior hockey presence in Toronto. It's a challenge but it's an exciting challenge."

Almost as big as the double Cameron has on his plate this year.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca


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