Canada's National Junior Team head coach Dave Cameron is in a pretty precarious situation.
One season removed from witnessing Team USA stun the favored Canadians in the final of the World Junior Championship in Saskatoon as an associate coach, Cameron has been given full reigns in attempt to restore the country's dominance.
Cameron realizes this, but knows it certainly won't come easy.
It all begins this weekend in St. John's, Newfoundland, when Canada's National Junior Team developmental camp runs through Saturday at Mile One Centre. There, 44 of Canada's hopefuls will conduct intra-squad games and off-ice activities that will help Cameron and his staff assemble the country's roster for the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo and Niagara, N.Y.
"The first thing we want to establish is how hard it is to win the gold medal," Cameron told NHL.com. "There's legitimately three or four teams that have a chance to win this medal and it's going to be hard, so we want the players to recognize right away that it's no longer our divine right to win this tournament and it's going to come down to 2-3 key plays in 2-3 games … whether that be in a shootout or overtime."
Still, it's hard to ignore Canada's dominance in this tournament since 1982, winning 15 gold medals, including the unprecedented five-year run from 2005 thru '09, and six silvers.
"You play to win this gold medal every time, but the reality of it is you're not going to, so when you don't, as we didn't last year, we don't dwell on it," Cameron said. "We pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and make sure we're as well prepared as we possibly can be so we're clicking on all cylinders and don't beat ourselves."
For Cameron, having an opportunity to coach many of the finest young skaters in the country is certainly a privilege.
"Our depth has always been a great part of the program," Cameron said. "These are all good kids and we've told them all at our initial meeting that they're here based on their ability and there No. 1 objective is to work hard."
Cameron said he doesn't anticipate any trimming of the roster immediately following the camp, but a cut-down will take place prior to the next get-together in Toronto in mid-December. The final 22-player roster must be set by Dec. 25. The WJC will take place Dec. 26-Jan. 5 at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo and Niagara University's Dwyer Arena in Lewiston, N.Y.
The current camp roster includes 20 first-round NHL draft picks, including Tyler Seguin, who was chosen second overall by the Boston Bruins last June. It has been confirmed that Jared Cowen (Ottawa, '09) and Calvin de Haan (New York Islanders, '09) will attend development camp, but will not partake in the games. Seguin just signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Bruins on Aug. 3.
"We recognize it's a summer camp and we recognize a lot of guys haven't been playing competitive hockey, but we expect them, every time out on the ice, to go hard and that will allow us as coaches to put some names to faces," Cameron said.
Cameron, 51, has been the head coach and director of hockey operations with the Ontario Hockey League's Mississauga St. Michael's Majors since 2007-08, so he's relatively familiar with the 13 OHL players in camp. His biggest challenge, however, is to acquaint himself with those other Canadian Hockey League standouts.
"Watching them in the short term, from the beginning of this tournament, and getting a handle on them will be key but we also have to rely on (Canadian head scout) Al Murray, who does an excellent job," Cameron said. "I don't think skill is ever an issue, but it's the manner in which guys turn themselves over to the team and adjust their game. They can't expect to play the same way they play for their respective club teams just because you're a high-end guy there. You may be asked to play a lesser role on this team."
Cameron has been a part of the National Junior Team coaching staff now for three seasons, having won gold as an assistant coach in 2009 in Ottawa before taking silver as an associate last year in Saskatoon. He also won gold as the head coach with Canada's National Men's Summer Under-18 Team at the 2004 Junior World Cup.
Canada's camp roster also includes two draft eligible prospects for 2011 in Nathan Beaulieu of Saint John in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Sean Couturier of Drummondville, also of the QMJHL. Cameron's message to both players is to just play their game.
"They can't be second guessing themselves and wondering, 'What are the coaches looking for here?' " Cameron said. "You have to play to your strengths. Strut the stuff that got you invited here, don't worry about mistakes and have some fun in the process."
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