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Cameron responsible for Senators' turnaround

by Feature / Ottawa Senators

OTTAWA -- Dave Cameron didn't mean to do it, but the Ottawa Senators coach perfectly summed up what allowed his team to go on a fairy tale run to the Stanley Cup Playoffs shortly after it ended.

The disappointment of the Senators 2-0 loss in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference First Round series against the Montreal Canadiens was still fresh, and a playoff elimination is never easy to process.

Cameron was asked how he would do that, especially following a game in which the Senators outshot the Canadiens by a 43-20 margin and had a tying goal by Jean-Gabriel Pageau waved off because the play was blown dead even though the puck was loose.

Those circumstances would normally tear a competitor's guts to shreds.

But not Cameron. And not these Senators.

"That's one of the advantages of being old," Cameron joked, somehow finding his sense of humor amid the disappointment. "One of my biggest disappointments in not going back to Montreal for Game 7 is that heated toilet seat at the Ritz [Carlton Hotel], which is old.

"When you're old, you learn to roll with the punches."

The Senators have needed to roll with the punches for months. They have been playing do-or-die games since mid-February, or more precisely February 18 when a 4-2 win against the Canadiens embarked the Senators on a 21-3-3 finish to the regular season that allowed them to reach the playoffs, a run that was ended by the same team it started with.

The Senators lost assistant coach Mark Reeds to cancer the day before the playoffs began, but drew strength from their sorrow.

The Senators learned general manager Bryan Murray had cancer earlier this season, and drew inspiration from his courageous battle.

The Senators went down 3-0 in the series, but never appeared any more concerned than they were before Game 1.

The run to the postseason taught this team something about how to handle pressure, and what real pressure actually is.

Cameron spoke about hockey teams using analogies about war and battle to describe what they go through this time of year. But what happened to Reeds went deeper than that.

"What we went through with [Reeds], that's no analogy. That's real life," he said. "I think what that will do is give our guys a real good balance and be able to find out that, 'Hey, we have it pretty good here.' Our profession is good, and our job is real good, but at the end of the day don't take anything for granted."

The Senators used that balance to great effect in reaching the postseason.

They learned how to avoid looking at the big picture, how to focus on the task directly in front of them, how to ignore the odds, and how to beat those odds.

All of these things will serve the Senators well in the future, one that looked dim as recently as Feb. 7 when they were 20-22-9 and had won four of their previous 14 games. The future for the Senators at that point looked destined for the NHL Draft Lottery, not the playoffs.

Now that future looks very bright.

"I think the run we've been on was a lot of fun," Senators captain Erik Karlsson said. "We've grown a lot as a team and every individual player has taken that extra step. That's what we need from this organization and this hockey club moving forward if you want to be able to compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the future. We should be proud of what we've done and learn from it at the same time."

The one aspect of that bright future that hasn't gotten much credit is Cameron.

Goaltender Andrew Hammond's storybook run at the end of the season and rookie Mark Stone's emergence as a top line scoring threat hogged all the headlines as the Senators shredded the NHL to make the playoffs, but Cameron righted a sinking ship.

He allowed the organization's youth to take a bigger role on the team, and Stone, Mika Zibanejad, Patrick Wiercioch, Mike Hoffman and others became impact players under his watch.

The sense when Cameron took over from MacLean from around the hockey world was that his was an appointment of convenience. He was already in Ottawa as the assistant coach so the mid-season transition to Cameron would therefore be easier.

But Murray was equivocal the day he announced the switch that Cameron was his coach. And he appears to have chosen the right man.

"Until you get in and do it, and until you get some sort of pedigree and success, you're not quite sure [if you can]," Cameron said. "I do know this, and I said this numerous times to all the teams I've coached, that as coach you're only as good as your players."

In this case, however, many of Cameron's players became good because of him. And the Senators organization has drastically turned around as a result.

Author: Arpon Basu | Managing Editor

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