OTTAWA -- Dave Cameron apparently doesn't do anything too quickly.
The new coach of the Ottawa Senators jokingly said he holds the record for taking the longest to get an undergraduate degree at University of Prince Edward Island, at 10 years.
"I enrolled in '76, graduated with the class of '86," said the 56-year-old, who became the Senators' 10th coach when Paul MacLean was fired Monday.
Cameron was pursuing his career as a hockey player during that 10-year span, which included three NHL seasons with the Colorado Rockies and the New Jersey Devils.
It's taken him a long time on a long road, but he has his first job as an NHL coach.
After graduating from UPEI, he went through a management trainee program with a bank, but quickly decided that wasn't for him.
"That was enough," he said. "I was done."
He worked with young offenders, helping them reintegrate into the community. He enjoyed that, so he went back to school in a graduate program in counselling and wound up becoming a guidance counselor.
"I loved that job, but I loved hockey a little bit more," he said. "When I first decided to get back into hockey, I wanted to be able to last long enough to see if I was any good at it and if I really wanted to do it.
"Once I got in for a period a time and the passion grew, I knew I wanted to be an NHL coach, but I also knew don't be in a rush to get there because you're probably going to get one kick at the cat, and if you're not ready when you get there and you get fired then you're probably done. I aspired for it for a long time. I was never in a panic or rush or a time frame on it."
Cameron was interviewed for the Senators coaching job in 2011 but lost out to MacLean.
There was disappointment, but Cameron said that is just another rung on the ladder every coach must climb.
"I've been trying to get to the NHL level for a long time. I felt I've put in the time and I feel comfortable. When you don't get it, yes, you're disappointed, but I've been disappointed lots in this business and you're not going to survive if you can't manage disappointment," he said. "I'm a strong believer that things happen, they just don't happen at the speed we want them to."
So, is he ready now? After a couple of stints coaching junior hockey, including Canada's national junior team to a silver medal at the 2011 World Junior Championship in Buffalo, time in the American Hockey League and four years in the NHL as an assistant to MacLean, Cameron said he thinks so.
After firing MacLean, Senators general manager Bryan Murray mentioned turnovers in the defensive zone and shots surrendered as two areas that needed to be corrected.
The Senators were 29th, 29th, 23th and 29th in shots allowed under MacLean.
"Yes, it is a pressing issue and it's something I plan to address," Cameron said. "There's a couple of ways to attack it. One is to spend less time in your zone. You have to have a better forecheck and spend less time in your zone. You have to get through the neutral zone.
"When you do get in your own end, your system is based on two parts. It's about position, being in the right spot. Inside that spot, you have to win your 1-on-1 battles because that's what hockey comes down to. If I don't win my 1-on-1 battles, then you have to come and help me, then basically you're shorthanded. Our positioning is pretty good. We have to win more 1-on-1 battles and then get out."
Cameron, who described himself as a stickler for details, said getting his first coaching job was bittersweet because it came at the expense of a friend. Cameron doesn't like to juggle his lines, unlike his predecessor, and said practices need to be more difficult than games.
"I honestly believe that hard work and fun can be said in the same sentence," he said. "Your practices have to be harder than the games. We talked about it a little bit on the ice today. It's really hard to have teammate go against teammate battling, but you have to do it in practice to such point that it carries over into the game."
Cameron addressed the players before practice Tuesday and explained his approach.
"My team is made up roles. Some roles are 20 minutes, some are 15 and some are less than 10," he said. "Those roles are like a puzzle, and when they all fit together you paint a pretty nice picture. No role is any more important than the other, because if one of those pieces is missing, if you look at the puzzle, then the picture isn't quite as pretty. Teams are going to attack whatever your weakness is."
He also told his players "Everything we do, you have the right to challenge."
"I know at the end of the day you're as good as your players, and a lot of times you're as good as your goaltending," he said. "That's the thing. I'm all about team. At the end of the day, the best team wins championships. I challenge my players with everything I do and say. Every decision we make is in the best interests of the team, and they have the right at any time that if they don't believe in what we're doing as a staff and as a team, they can come in and by all means we'll talk about it."