Having grown up in downtown Toronto, Anthony Camara
was captivated by the game of hockey from a very young age.
"You see the passion in the city for the (Toronto) Maple Leafs and for the sport in general and it inspires you," Camara told NHL.com. "You walk around the streets and see the celebrations. It's a great place for hockey."
Now, as a 17-year-old forward for the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League, Camara channels that same childhood passion on every shift. The 6-foot, 194-pound left wing is No. 78 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2011 Entry Draft.
It is no secret that Camara prides himself on physicality and energy, as he accumulated 132 penalty minutes this past season, his second with the Spirit. His hard-nosed approach to the game has helped him earn his stripes in the OHL while also improving his overall comfort level on the ice.
In 64 games in 2010-11, he had 8 goals and 9 assists, improving in both categories from his first OHL season.
Saginaw coach Todd Watson attributed Camara's improvement to his willingness to adapt to different roles while keeping the best interest of the team in mind.
"Confidence is everything with Anthony, and guys feed off that," Watson told NHL.com. "His transition from Year 1 to Year 2 really stands out. He's one of our toughest players and most skilled players, and he won't back down to any challenge."
Watson said Camara's ability to shine -- not only on a regular shift, but also on the penalty kill -- comes as a result of more ice time. Central Scouting's Chris Edwards said Camara excelled this past season in his role as a "grinding" type of player.
"Anthony plays a high-energy, two-way game," Edwards told NHL.com. "He is a hard-working, up-and-down guy who is a fierce competitor. He's not a guy who goes around looking for trouble, but he will scrap with anyone in the league. He's been very effective on Saginaw's penalty-kill unit and is a very good shot blocker."
Camara knows the importance of improving his offensive skill set in order to succeed at the next level. However, he's emphatic in outlining what already makes him an asset to any locker room.
"You can’t be scared -- you have to be born with physicality," Camara said. "You can always improve, skill-wise, through hard work, but you have to be born with heart. I have my teammates' back and lead by example, block shots and do the little things that win championships."
That confidence and work ethic first was spotted by Mark Filippone, who coached Camara for three seasons with the Mississauga Senators minor hockey organization.
"I think (playing for Mississauga) was huge for him because it was the first time he realized he was one of the better players -- not just on our team, but also in his age group in Toronto," Filippone told NHL.com. "You gain a lot of confidence once you start feeling that way."
While Camara's confidence has been instrumental in his accomplishments thus far in his career, he credits his deep love for the game of hockey as an inspiration. He said he particularly enjoys watching players who play a similar style as his at the NHL level.
"(Cal) Clutterbuck has led the League in hits the past two years, but he also kind of put himself into a role as a goal-scorer this year because of the opportunity," Camara said of the Minnesota Wild
forward. "I've been watching him for years and he's just such a hard worker who finishes all his checks and just plays with such physicality."
Camara brought that physicality to the OHL playoffs this spring, logging valuable ice time in all 12 postseason games for Saginaw. The Spirit outlasted the Guelph Storm in six games in the first round, but the two-time defending Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfire eliminated Saginaw in six games in the second round.
He had just 1 assist and a minus-4 rating, but he made an impact by consistently playing with intensity and finishing checks for Saginaw's energy line.
He also had a hand in Saginaw's first-ever victories beyond the first round of the playoffs, as well as the franchise's first West division title in its nine-year history.
"I have great confidence in (Anthony), and he has great confidence in his play," Watson said. "He's a good kid and he'll continue to improve. He keeps to himself and goes about his business in a professional way. His best hockey is ahead and I'm really happy for him."