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Gaunce Has New Mindset

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
The honors and accolades that have been rolling in for Avalanche prospect Cameron Gaunce have been numerous and varied.

The Sudbury, Ontario native has also been a finalist for the Max Kaminsky Trophy, presented to the OHL’s most outstanding defenseman, for two consecutive seasons.

During the 2008-09 campaign, he earned the title of “Best Defensive Defenseman” when the OHL Eastern Conference Coaches Poll was released. He has also been a top-three finalist in three additional categories (Smartest Player, Best Playmaker and Best Offensive Defenseman) over the past two years.

Factor in a couple of OHL Second All-Star Team honors, a pair of appearances at the league’s all-star game and the fact that he served as Mississauga’s captain this past season, and you begin to get the picture. The 6-foot-1, 203-pound rearguard has a pretty solid set of skills.

For his part, Gaunce provides a straightforward answer when asked to evaluate his own game.

Gaunce posted 37 points (6g/31a) in 55 games during the 2009-10 season
“I see myself as an all-around defenseman. First and foremost I’m a good team player,” said Gaunce. “There’s nothing more important to me than the success of our team. I think stats and recognition come with playing hard. I like to think I’m a smart player and tough to play against, and will also stick up for my teammates when I have to.”

Gaunce might have received even more recognition this past season were it not for a shoulder injury suffered in early February that caused him to miss five weeks of action. But instead of getting down on himself, the defenseman received some advice from Lake Erie General Manager/Director of Player Development David Oliver following the injury and quickly got his mind in the right place.

“It was just before our biggest road trip when we went to play Windsor, the eventual Memorial Cup champions, so I missed that,” said Gaunce. “It was tough, especially being away from the team during those road trips. But it’s part of hockey and I had to live with it. I felt sorry for myself for about one night, then David Oliver talked to me and made sure I wasn’t after that.”

After being eased back into the lineup at the end of the regular season, Gaunce had a strong postseason, leading his club with 13 assists in 16 contests while also ranking second on the team with 34 penalty minutes.

The latter statistic is one thing that stands out about Gaunce. The Avalanche has a plethora of players tabbed as “puck-moving defensemen” within its system, including the likes of Tyson Barrie, Stefan Elliott and Kevin Shattenkirk. Gaunce is a fine offensive player in his own right, but he also takes pride in the grittier parts of the game.

“I only got into four or five fights this year due to my shoulder, because I wasn’t allowed after the injury,” said Gaunce. “But part of my game is to make sure there are no liberties being taken on my teammates and also to make sure the other team knows I’m on the ice.”

Now 20 years old, Gaunce would be eligible to return for his overage year with Mississauga if he and the Avalanche felt it to be appropriate. But the more likely scenario is that he will begin his professional career in 2010-11.

“My goal is to play in Colorado,” said Gaunce. “But after that, I would like to play in the American Hockey League over juniors. It’s up to Colorado. Wherever they think my development will be best, I agree with them.”

And when he comes to Colorado’s training camp in September, he’ll bring a different mindset than he did a year ago. The first to admit he didn’t have a great camp last season, Gaunce said he had some nerves and got away from the style of play that made him so successful in junior hockey .

It’s tough to blame him for that. During the majority of camp, Gaunce was paired with Avalanche captain Adam Foote. Gaunce, who was 19 years old at the time, was already a bit overwhelmed by the situation, even before finding out he’d be skating with Foote, who was entering his 18th NHL campaign.

As the story goes, early on during camp Gaunce was apologizing to Foote for making a few errant defenseman-to-defenseman passes. As a bit of foreshadowing into his ability to relate to and mentor young players, Foote pulled Gaunce aside and told him to relax and just play hockey.

“I think the biggest thing last year in training camp is that I wasn’t playing my game,” said Gaunce. “I was trying to be someone I wasn’t. I was trying to be too defensive and not step on the older guys’ toes and respect everyone. I think this year I just need to go out there, play my game and be myself, and that will give me the best opportunity to make the team. I think last year was kind of an eye-opener, and I can’t play like that if I want to be at this level.”

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