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Scheifele says Team Canada needs what Colts power forward can bring to the table

By Gene Pereira, Special to Postmedia Network

Forward Anthony Camara is having a breakout season with the Barrie Colts since being acquired from the Saginaw Spirit at last season’s trade deadline. Playing on the top line in Barrie, the Toronto native has 34 points (19G, 15A) in 28 games. He loves to play a physical game, but also knows that providing toughness without taking penalities is key, especially on the international stage. MARK WANZEL FILE PHOTO

Forward Anthony Camara is having a breakout season with the Barrie Colts since being acquired from the Saginaw Spirit at last season’s trade deadline. Playing on the top line in Barrie, the Toronto native has 34 points (19G, 15A) in 28 games. He loves to play a physical game, but also knows that providing toughness without taking penalities is key, especially on the international stage. MARK WANZEL FILE PHOTO

The conversation and texts between Anthony Camara and Mark Scheifele started back in the summer.

Teammates with the Barrie Colts, the world junior hockey championship was still a ways off, let alone the Ontario Hockey League season, but Camara’s focus was already on making the Canadian national junior team.

“We were texting each other about it in the summer, saying how I think I could be on that team and (Scheifele) thought so, too,” Camara recalled while fresh off the announcement Monday that both of them were among the 37 players invited to take part in Canada’s national junior team selection camp, which will be held Dec. 11-13 at the Canada Olympic Park in Calgary.

“We just worked at it and it was a goal of mine,” Camara said. “He’s been kind of showing me here and there and he’s going to help me out when we get over there in Calgary.”

After playing a big role in last year’s bronze-medal effort at the world junior tournament, it’s all but a given that Scheifele will be part of this year’s Canadian squad shooting for gold in Russia over the Christmas holidays.

But Scheifele also recognizes the need for those physical, energy-type players and he knows Camara could fill that role to a tee on this year’s national team.

That’s why he spent the summer talking it over with Camara and when the OHL season started he made sure to remind his linemate to keep up his great start.

“I definitely kept telling him you’re on the (national team) radar, you’ve been having such a good year that you’ve got to keep pushing and keep playing your game,” Scheifele, a Winnipeg Jets top prospect, explained. “He just kept doing it, kept producing and kept playing his game.”

Given an opportunity to play more of an offensive role this season, Camara took advantage in a big way and exploded out of the gate. Playing alongside Scheifele on Barrie’s top forward line, as well as on the top power-play unit, the Boston Bruins prospect has already surpassed his career-best numbers in a season with 19 goals and 15 assists in 28 games.

Camara, who represented the OHL in the Subway Super Series versus the Russians earlier this season, certainly caught the eye of Hockey Canada with his start.

“All his hard work didn’t go unnoticed and to be named to selection camp is pretty unbelievable,” said Scheifele, as happy for Camara as he is for himself. “I know he’s definitely going to keep working his hardest to make that team and I wouldn’t put it past him that he will make that team.

“He’s a hard-working guy and when he really sets his mind on something he wants to get, that’s the mentality he has.”

A 14th-overall selection of the Saginaw Spirit in the 2009 OHL Priority Selection, Camara was known more for his physical game, until this season. A hard-nosed winger, Camara had the tools to develop into a top power forward, but that wouldn’t truly begin to happen until he came to Barrie at last year’s trade deadline.

“I think we just had a lot of great players in Saginaw and I was kind of a young guy starting out and I had to pay my dues,” the six-foot-one, 194-pound winger said. “I worked hard and when I came to Barrie, and got a chance, I definitely came into my own.”

Colts head coach Dale Hawerchuk is happy for Camara, but not surprised he’s getting a chance to play for Canada. Though Camara has always had that physical element to his game, Hawerchuk has watched as his power forward has worked hard to incorporate the skating, the desire and the discipline into his game.

While “really elevating his play,” Hawerchuk says Camara has done it along with great composure. Camara has made the most of his offensive opportunities and shown that he can be that complete player.

“He’s really taken advantage of that,” Hawerchuk said of Camara’s increased role in the attack. “The power play has been pretty good all year and he’s a big part of that. He’s a force in front of the net and he’s not easy to move.

“He’s worked hard at practice to be able to pick up the rebounds and get tips, and be able to add to that offence when he does get the opportunity.”

Camara is far from the first Colt to be somewhat of a surprise invite to selection camp. Former Colt captain Stefan Della Rovere, another power-forward type, worked his way into the picture and onto the national team for two years.

Della Rovere won a gold medal with Team Canada in 2009 followed by silver the next year.

Then last season, winger Tanner Pearson, who was surpassed twice in the NHL Entry Draft, exploded out of the gates and onto the national scene, joining Scheifele on last year’s Canadian squad as the “13th forward.”

“I’m just trying to do my best,” said Camara, a third-round pick (81st overall) of the Bruins in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. “I’d love to take on that role, as Della Rovere did, and just give it a lot of life and energy, excitement and a lot of heart.

“I’d be proud to do that.”

Like Della Rovere, Camara will have to provide that physical edge and energy, but do so without it resulting in Canada having to play shorthanded. Penalties at this high level of hockey can determine the outcome and Camara must show that he can provide that toughness and not cross the line if he wants to be on that final roster heading over to Russia. 

“You’ve got to be physical, but you’ve got to be smart about it, too,” Scheifele said. “I think he really knows how to deal with that. That’s the big thing he’s learned. You can be physical, but don’t be dumb about it.

“That’s a big asset he brings to the table, especially being a Canadian player. Physicality is a big part of it. He definitely has all the tools for that.”

Camara credits Hawerchuk for helping take his game to the next level and helping him learn when to pick his spots when it comes to the physical stuff.

“I also talked about it with my (scout) from Boston, just a controlled chaos,” Camara said. “I want to be chaos, but just under control. I don’t want anything after the whistle, no dumb penalties and stuff like that.”

If Camara is going to make the club, there’s little doubt that Canada is looking for him to be a physical presence. But Camara’s speed, especially with that bigger ice surface in Europe, will also give him another advantage going into the selection camp next week.

Hawerchuk says he has heard that national team head coach Steve Spott, of the Kitchener Rangers, is looking for a fourth line that is pretty “physically powerful, but still has some skill.”

Camara, he believes, could fit that role or even better.

“If we do get a line of (Oshawa’s) Boone Jenner, (Plymouth’s) Tom Wilson and Camara, the Russians might run for the hills,” Hawerchuk said with a chuckle. “At the end of the day, that’d be a pretty physical force coming at you.

“They play a physical brand and are a threat offensively as well.”

Camara just wants to do what got him here and above all enjoy the opportunity that has given him the chance to make a dream come true and play at the world junior championship.

“I’m just going to go over there and have some fun,” the 19-year-old said. “I’ve been playing this game since I was a little kid just to have fun. That’s what I want to do, is not get too serious, too worried about it if I make a bad pass or anything.

“I’m just going to go over there and have fun and I’m sure that’s the best way to do it.”

Like he did last season with Pearson, Scheifele believes he won’t be the only Colt pulling over a national team jersey at the end of selection camp.

“I wouldn’t be surprised at all,” Scheifele said of Camara making the team. “He’s worked his butt off all year to make selection camp and I wouldn’t put it past him that he’s going to work his hardest to make that team.”

For Camara, this is just the first step down the road.

“I’m just trying to keep it going,” he said.

While Camara normally loves spending the holiday season with his family, he’s hoping not this one.

“I’ll take this Christmas off, for sure,” Camara said, adding a chuckle.

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