"What did the coaching staff see in Casey Cizikas
that earned him a spot on this hockey team?"
"What? Who said that?" a stern-faced Cameron asked. You almost got the feeling Cameron was ready to hop over the railing that separates the players and coaches from the media to "discuss" the issue one-on-one with the daring questioner.
Of course, that never happened.
"Casey is the captain of No. 1 team in Canada," said Cameron. "He's smart, knows how to get the job done and will do whatever it takes."
Cameron would know since he also coaches Cizikas with the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors of the Ontario Hockey League. The 5-foot-10, 193-pound forward, one of two New York Islanders prospects on Canada's roster, has been a big topic of discussion three days into the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship.
He'll certainly be a big part of Canada's game plan Tuesday, when they face the Czech Republic (4 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, TSN) in the second game of preliminary-round play.
In Canada's tournament-opening 6-3 victory against Russia on Sunday, Cizikas registered three shots but didn't come away with any points. But that's not what all the fuss was about.
"It was a huge PK. The shift got the emotion and fans into it and in the end got the team to play with emotion. I thought we were nervous to start and nervous early. When you play in an elite tournament like this, you have to be patient." -- Dave Cameron
Reporters wanted to know about a certain 25-second stretch in the first period when the selfless Cizikas was a one-man wrecking crew with his team shorthanded and down 1-0 some 12 minutes into the contest.
Cizikas, 19, was too humble to admit his effort on the penalty kill might have changed the complexion of the entire game, but only after listening to him discuss that shift do you begin to realize just how important it was.
"The puck went into the corner and you do what all PK'ers try to do -- try to buy some time and eat the clock down," said Cizikas. "I had some luck on my side because they just couldn't get the puck off of me."
And what happened after the shift?
"I was trying to get air back into my body and I was huffing and puffing on the bench," said Cizikas. "As soon as I could hear them (his teammates) they were all talking to me and saying great job. It's just one of those things that you'll always remember."
Cameron felt Cizikas' shift pumped some life back into his team and the 18,690 fans in attendance.
"It was a huge PK," he said. "The shift got the emotion and fans into it and in the end got the team to play with emotion. I thought we were nervous to start and nervous early. When you play in an elite tournament like this, you have to be patient."
A little over four minutes after killing off the power play, Marcus Foligno scored a power-play goal to tie the game and get Canada going.
"I've never seen anyone pretty much kill off a full penalty before," said Foligno. "It just goes to show you that momentum swing was in Casey's hands."
This type of play on an international level is nothing new for Cizikas. He won a gold medal with Team Ontario at the 2008 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in London, Ont., and won a gold medal with Canada at the 2008 Ivan Hlinka Memorial in Slovakia and Czech Republic.
Cizikas, who has 16 goals, 36 points and a plus-23 rating in 28 games with Mississauga this season, was a fourth-round choice (No. 92) of the Islanders in 2009.
But in addition to trying to become an impactful part of the Canadian National Junior Team, Cizikas has been working hard to get his life off the ice back in order. During a rugby match in 2007, it was alleged that a Cizikas tackle led to fatal brain injuries suffered by 15-year-old Manny Castillo. Cizikas was charged with manslaughter, and on July 6, 2009, he was sentenced to one year of probation and 100 hours of community service. The incident is something Cizikas won't soon forget.
He thanked his family and Cameron for never leaving his side at those court appearances.
"I know for a fact (Cameron) lost time with his family so he could be there for me," Cizikas told AOL Fanhouse. "I couldn't ask for anything more from a person in my lifetime than what Dave Cameron has done for me."
Now, he just wants to do whatever he can to return the favor, although Cameron would much rather see Cizikas continue to live out his dream.
"(The WJC) is definitely a huge step in my career right now and it's definitely one of the most exciting parts of my career," said Cizikas. Follow Mike Morreale at the WJC on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer