Dave Cameron and Team Canada are trying to win back World Junior gold in Buffalo, N.Y. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)
When queried as to whom his hero was growing up on Prince Edward Island, Canadian world junior team head coach Dave Cameron was swift to supply an answer: his father, Wilbur.
Why? Because the elder Cameron worked two jobs so his five sons -- and for a brief time his only daughter -- could play hockey.
He worked on the old CN Marine ferry between Port Borden, P.E.I. and Cape Tormentine, N.C. at night for almost 35 years. His second job was on a farm in his spare time.
"He took vacations so he could pick potatoes," Dave recalled.
Wilbur, now 77, never played hockey, but loved the game more than most. His story is not unlike many young Canadian boys of his vintage. His passion for hockey was hatched in 1947 when he listened to radio for the first time on the family farm in Albany, west of Charlottetown.
The first words out this box belonged to hockey broadcaster Foster Hewitt. He was calling a Toronto Maple Leafs game against the Detroit Red Wings.
"I just loved hockey," Wilbur said. "In that day, rural hockey was a big thing here. I didn't miss too many games."
In 1955, Wilbur and his wife Bernice moved to Toronto and lived in the east end for three years. Wilbur would often make his way down to Maple Leaf Gardens on Saturdays and buy a single ticket.
Howe in the flesh
His first game was Toronto-Detroit again. The legendary Gordie Howe was in his rookie season the first night Wilbur tuned in on his radio and now he was seeing this NHL superstar in the flesh.
"It was tough to a ticket to see the Montreal Canadiens then because they were flying high," Wilbur said. "But I will never forget that first time. I was 22 years old. I don't think kids now would get the kind of thrill I did that night. I had goosebumps watching Gordie and Ted Lindsay."
Wilbur and his wife had six kids in six years, and now 15 grandchildren. After the eldest Brian was born in Toronto, the couple returned to P.E.I. and along came Dave, Michael, Rick, Lorna and Charlie. Dad would later coach them all in minor hockey, but never pushed any of them.
"Back in those days, high school hockey was a big deal," Wilbur said. "I'm was excited he just got to play high school hockey."
Dave did more than play high school hockey. He went on to make the varsity squad at the University of Prince Edward Island and he was good enough to garner interest from the New York Islanders.
Then Islanders assistant general manager Jim Devellano hired Jack Hynes as a part-time scout to keep an eye out for any sleepers in Atlantic Canada. Hynes just happened to also be UPEI's head coach and suggested the Islanders take a look at his best player, Dave Cameron. Drafted by the Isles
They liked the kid and drafted the skilled centre in the eighth round in 1978, 135th overall.
"I will tell you that this man is highly intelligent, highly educated and highly principled," Devellano said. "He is a good coach at the junior level and I would not be surprised if he became a good head coach in the NHL down the road."
Cameron never played for the Islanders. Instead, they traded him to the Colorado Rockies along with Bob Lorimer for the third overall selection in the 1983 draft. That pick wound up being Pat Lafontaine.
In a strange twist, Devellano had been hired as the Red Wings GM then and in his first draft Detroit's new boss hoped to land Lafontaine with the fourth overall choice. But after the Islanders took him, Devellano settled for Steve Yzerman.
Cameron went on to play 168 NHL games with the Rockies and when they later moved to New Jersey. His coach back then was the respected Marshall Johnston.
"Marshall is an intelligent hockey man," Cameron said. "Marshall's strength was he always kept things in balance. He never got too high, never got too low."
You will see this trait in Cameron. He is competitive, but humble. He believes in the importance of the team dynamic, and rarely singles out a star over a fourth-liner.Strong friendship
That people-caring attitude pulled Peter Henderson to Cameron when the two were at UPEI. Henderson, an athletic trainer, is from Camden, Maine. He was lured to Charlottetown when a basketball coach and player from his hometown decided to fix themselves to UPEI.
Henderson was asked to help out with the hockey team one day and was hooked partly because of a friendship that developed with Cameron. To this day, Henderson remains in hockey as the equipment manager of the Providence Bruins.
"I sent a text to Dave when he got the job as Canada's coach that this is the best thing that has happened to USA hockey," joked Henderson, who also spent a few seasons working for Providence's big club in Boston.
"He was a good player who led the [conference] in scoring. He was a smart player who worked hard. You could tell back then he had a future in the game."
Dave has a degree in business administration and after his pro career concluded he returned to attain a masters in education at the University of New Brunswick. But he kept playing hockey and helped the Charlottetown Islanders win the prestigious Allan Cup national senior title in 1991.
The senior game was at a high level of hockey in those days. So when the AHL's Saint John Flames needed a player because of a rash of injuries, Cameron played one game in 1994-95, a decade after his pro career ended.Rising in the ranks
Cameron already had begun coaching at the minor league level on Prince Edward Island by then. He moved onto the old Colonial Hockey League in 1995-96, eventually advancing to junior with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
"I started at the lowest levels and I wanted to see if I was any good as a coach," said Cameron, who is the coach/GM of the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors in the OHL.
"I've had some success, but the reason I've had success is that I've worked with good people who have generally given me good players," he said. "I believe there is a direct correlation between good coaches and good players.
"I'm no different than the players. I would love to be able to make it to the National Hockey League. That being said, I know how hard it is. There are only 30 jobs out there."
David William Cameron already has and will continue to be cross-examined on a daily basis by the press and hockey fans across the country in his role as the Canadian under-20 head coach, almost as much as his namesake, Great Britain's current Prime Minister David William Donald Cameron.
There is a difference, of course.
"At the end of the day it's a game," said the hockey coach, whose team opens the 2011 world junior championship against Russia in Buffalo on Sunday.
"The pressure I feel is a healthy pressure. I'm competitive. I want to make sure that, as a coaching staff, we have the best-prepared team. There are high expectations, but certainly not any higher than the expectations I place on myself."
Wilbur, meanwhile, will watch the games on television at home rather than travel to the tournament like he did to Saskatoon a year ago, when his son was an assistant coach with the Canadian junior team that settled for silver.
"It's going to be hard watching with your own flesh and blood involved," Wilbur confessed.
But since Wilbur turns 78 in mid-January, a win in the gold medal game on Jan. 5 would be one heck of a present his son could give his hero.
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