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Senators' Cameron stressing hard work this summer

by Chris Stevenson / NHL.com

OTTAWA -- Ottawa Senators coach Dave Cameron already is working on having his team pick up where it left off this season.

Cameron, 56, went 32-15-8 after replacing Paul MacLean as coach in December. On Thursday, he signed a two-year contract that runs through the 2016-17 season.

The Senators were the story of the final two months of the 2014-15 regular season; they went 23-4-4 down the stretch and overcame a 14-point deficit to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was the largest such margin in NHL history. They lost in six games to the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference First Round.

Cameron had the Senators play a more aggressive forechecking system, and he gave some young players a bigger role.

Young players often can regress after a quick start to their careers, and Cameron is mindful of that. He said to prevent any backsliding, there's been an emphasis placed on summer conditioning.

"All we can do is remind them about the summer part, the fitness part," he said. "Give them a reminder and hope their passion and their competitive nature will see them through the summer. Hopefully the excitement of the way we finished the year will be fresh in their minds. The guys know how tough and how hard it was and I think they will be able to draw on that and help them to prepare for next year.

"It is something we are going to try and keep a handle on."

Cameron used forward Mark Stone, a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie, as an example of the benefits of working hard in the summer.

He said he remembers seeing Stone late last summer at Canadian Tire Centre and noticing the difference in Stone's body after he had spent the summer in Ottawa committed to the Senators' offseason conditioning program.

"He put in the time," Cameron said. "It's no surprise it led to his best season ever."

Stone started as a depth player but wound up playing on the top line. He tied for the rookie scoring lead with 64 points; in 31 games between Feb. 10 and the end of the regular season he had 35 points, tied for second-most in the League, according to War-on-ice.com.

Stone and forwards Mika Zibanejad, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Curtis Lazar, and defensemen Codi Ceci, Mark Borowiecki and Patrick Wiercioch, all 25 or younger, got more ice time under Cameron at the expense of veterans such as David Legwand, Colin Greening and Chris Phillips.

"I don't think it's necessarily an age thing," Cameron said. "My job as coach is to put on the ice what I think are the best players on a given night that give us the best chance to win. I'm not really looking at birth certificates when I do that."

Cameron said the players' willingness to work was the key to turning around the season.

"All the credit goes to the players," he said. "We were not different than most coaching staffs. We gave them a plan. We explained why we thought the plan would work and we just asked that they put in the effort and do the work every day to give us the best chance. They bought in.

"Certainly we're excited about the way our club finished. We didn't get the result we wanted in the playoffs, but had a pretty exciting series and got beat by a pretty good Montreal team. At the end of the day we finished in seventh place [in the Eastern Conference] and we're just going to look on improving that."

A key will be getting off to a better start next season; the Senators were 11-11-5 on Dec. 8 when MacLean was fired.

Cameron knows the chances of pulling off the same kind of finish next season are slim.

"Any time you're chasing a playoff spot it just adds to the difficulty of the season," he said. "As exciting as that run was, you're not going to be able to duplicate that in too many circumstances. We want to try not to be in that position. The start is going to be important.

"I really hope our players left excited about what they accomplished, but not content."

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