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Majors head coach Dave Cameron has shot at redemption at Memorial Cup

NHL.com @NHL

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - He's a strict, no-nonsense disciplinarian but Dave Cameron can also be a funny guy.

On Sunday, his Mississauga St. Michael's Majors lost a gut-wrenching 3-2 overtime decision to the Owen Sound Attack in the seventh and deciding game of the OHL final. Four days later, Cameron took a light-hearted approach about his team's psyche heading into its game Friday night against the Saint John Sea Dogs to open the MasterCard Memorial Cup.

"Well, I'm still not allowed to play with anything sharp," Cameron said during the Memorial Cup coaches news conference at the Hershey Centre. "I can't wait to get a win because those counselling sessions are really expensive.

"But, no, we absorbed it Monday. Anytime you lose a game with that much at stake it takes a while to get over it . . . but we're over it.''

The loss to Owen Sound — which rallied from a 2-0 series deficit — was the second crushing defeat this season for Cameron. In January he was behind the bench as Canada's national junior team squandered a three-goal lead en route to a stunning 5-3 loss to Russia in the gold medal game at Buffalo, N.Y.

But instead of being at home pondering what might've been, Cameron is thankful to have another shot at redemption in the Memorial Cup.

"Most years after a loss like that (to Owen Sound) you put your tail between your legs, go home and may never get another kick at the cat ever again," Cameron said. "So we're very fortunate that way to have another chance.

"It should make it easier to let go of.''

The Majors will certainly need a clear mind against Saint John. Not only are the Sea Dogs the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion but they come in as the Canadian Hockey League's top-ranked squad having won 111 games the past two seasons and boasting a perfect 10-0 road playoff record.

"I can't get inside their heads but the approach we took was two-fold," Cameron said. "One was when you have a loss like that in such a key moment you have to absorb it, then you have to let it go and then you can re-group for your next adventure.

"We have to play our way and have to make sure we're on top of our game. If we're on top of our game and a team beats us, then we can live with that.''

It's an approach the 52-year-old from Kincora, P.E.I., says has allowed him to successfully deal with both disappointments and not let either define him as a coach.

"When you get to the gold medal game of the world juniors and are up 3-0 after two you should never lose but we did," he said. "Once you deal with that sick feeling of losing and look back, I don't think there's a lot of guys that thought that team would even (win a) medal . . . so that means that team gave me everything it had and I'm very proud of that team and it's the same as losing here (with Majors) in game seven.

"When you lose to the Russians or Owen Sound, we don't give enough credit to the teams that beat us and both those teams were deserving. When it's all done and you absorb and deal with the hurt of losing and the sick feeling you get, you go back to the positives.''

And there have been no shortage of positives this season for Mississauga.

The club posted an OHL-high 53 wins in 68 games and led the league in goals for (287) and fewest goals allowed (170). The Majors cruised into the championship series with 4-0 sweeps of Belleville and Sudbury before needing just five games to dispatch Niagara.

But the Majors then ran into a persistent Owen Sound squad that rallied from series deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 and won all four of its games by one goal with three coming in overtime.

Saint John head coach Gerard Gallant said any criticism of Cameron this season is unfair.

"Let's face it, with Team Canada you're always expected to win," Gallant said. "Unfortunately things fall apart in five minutes and it happens at every level.

"He did an excellent job with Team Canada and has done an excellent job coaching his team. Two definite tough, tough hard losses and they are real hard on you but he's in the Memorial Cup and I'm sure he's really keen on that.''

Cameron and Gallant, a former long-time Detroit Red Wing, won't be the only two coaches in the spotlight this week as Saturday night Owen Sound and the WHL-champion Kootenay Ice will meet in their tournament openers.

Owen Sound's Mark Reeds was named the OHL's coach of the year after compiling the league's second-best record at 46-17-5. The league title was the Attack's first in its 22-year history since relocating from Guelph, Ont., but Reeds said that's ancient history now.

"We enjoyed the moment," he said. "We gave our players a one-day break and were back on the ice Tuesday.

"It's one step in the process . . . it's about the next game."

Kris Knoblauch has enjoyed an eventful first season behind Kootenay's bench. After posting a 46-21-5 record to finish fourth the Eastern Conference, the Ice went on an impressive 16-3 playoff march en route to the WHL crown.

But that has also resulted in the Ice having to deal with a lot of down time during the playoffs. Kootenay hasn't played since clinching the WHL title May 13.

"After you finish one series as a team you want to get back and play immediately because everything has been going so well you usually don't want to take breaks," he said. "We're kind of in the situation again where we finished our last series and had a little bit of time off.

"But we've had some preparation and a little bit of practice on how to do that so hopefully we're used to it.''

As for Cameron, he readily admits he didn't always take such a laid-back, philosophical approach to dealing with defeat.

"After the world junior thing happened I said, 'Thank God it didn't happen 10 years ago in terms of where I was development-wise,' " he said. "I've really tried to be even-keeled through it all . . . you have to be, that's how you develop a thick skin.

"If there's one thing I learned it's probably how hard it is to win. But I'm not sure I learned that because I think I always knew it.''

But Cameron is still brutally honest with his players and tell it like it is.

"In this business when you're dealing with 23 teenagers you have to be blunt," he said. "I'm not concerned whether they like or don't like me but they'll never be able to sit in a rocking chair and say "I wish someone would've told me," because I tell them.

"That bruises some egos along the way but that's part of journey.''

Majors captain Casey Cizikas, who also played for Cameron in the world junior event, says the team has taken on the personality of its hard-nosed head coach.

"If you look at our team we have guys who can be offensive players but we're all taking on roles now," he said. "With our team, it's always defence first and that's what we've been doing all year.

"It has worked for us, it got us to the seventh game of the OHL final so there's no reason for us to change it now.''

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