Scheifele, Camara a united front
The Colts’ Mark Scheifele and Anthony Camara may come from different worlds, but their friendship has blossomed since coming to Barrie and forming part of the OHL team’s top line. MARK WANZEL PHOTO
Mark Scheifele had just received the tough news.
After dressing in just four games with the Jets this season, Winnipeg’s top pick in the 2010 National Hockey League Entry Draft was informed he was being sent back to Barrie.
It was the second-straight season Scheifele had started in Winnipeg, only to have them tell him his pro career would have to wait just a little bit longer.
Heartbreaking news for, at the time, a 19-year-old who had a brief but tantalizing taste of what he had dreamed of since he first laced up the skates as a little boy.
Scheifele wanted someone to turn to, someone who would listen.
His first call wasn’t home. Instead, it was to a friend back in Barrie: his linemate with the Colts, Anthony Camara.
“Zach (Hall) and I had a sleepover and it was in the morning and the first thing I heard was the phone ringing, and it was Mark calling,” Camara explained. “It was a little bit of tough news at the beginning, but we were there for him and we wanted to make it fun so when he came back we had a great time together.”
Camara is serving a three-game suspension for flipping the puck over the glass after the whistle on Saturday during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarter-final series against the Kingston Frontenacs.
The Colts had the Frontenacs on the brink of elimination, Wednesday night. A Barrie win would mean a series sweep with Camara having to sit out one more game.
As bad as Scheifele felt about returning to junior, he knew his friends would be there for him.
“(Camara) and Halls were together and I called him,” Scheifele said. “That was my first call, to let him know I was coming back. It’s good to come back with friends like them. I think that’s a huge thing.”
It’s not often you don’t see the trio together. It’s been that way since Camara was traded from Saginaw to Barrie at last season’s Ontario Hockey League trade deadline.
Camara and Scheifele not only live with the same billet, but they became regular linemates right from the start of this season.
As the season progressed, Colts head coach Dale Hawerchuk loaded up his top line and moved centre Hall onto the right wing alongside Scheifele and Camara.
Being alongside one another isn’t just limited to their time at the rink.
“We’re best friends,” said Scheifele, now 20. “Him, Hallsy and I are pretty inseparable. We’re best friends and that really is a big part of our success on the ice.”
As a unit, the trio has been a force. They clicked together immediately on a power play that would become the OHL’s best.
When Hawerchuk decided to stack his top line and move Hall to the wing, thus was born one of the league’s most feared lines.
Both Hall and Camara would put up the best season of their junior hockey careers.
Hall, a Belleville native, would record 24 goals and 81 points and finish 12th overall among OHL scoring leaders.
Camara would finish 13th among the league’s top scorers, recording a career-high 36 goals and 60 points.
Scheifele was simply dominant. Despite playing in just 45 games this season, the Kitchener native would place 13th in overall scoring, firing a career-high 39 goals to lead the team and 79 points.
“We mesh really good and we really complement each other well on the ice,” Scheifele said of the trio. “We want to play with each other. We want to make each other better and that really helps as a line to be successful.”
While hockey may have brought them together, it’s friendship that has made the junior grind that much more enjoyable.
“We’ve become great friends,” Camara said. “Even when we have off days and go home, we still text each other. It’s become more than just hockey.”
In Scheifele, Camara has found a mentor, someone he can trust with just about anything. Someone he can lean on when times are tough.
And Camara has had his share of difficult times. He grew up in a rugged Toronto neighbourhood with his mom, Jennifer Haier, and older sister, Brooke.
His father wasn’t around much, but thankfully his uncle, Jeffrey Haier, was. He looked up to both Brooke and his uncle.
Growing up on the wrong side of the tracks can’t be easy, and for a young child finding trouble isn’t that difficult.
With some help and guidance from his uncle, Camara instead found sports, especially hockey.
He succeeded on the ice, impressing enough to get drafted by the Saginaw Spirit in the first round of the 2009 OHL Priority Selection.
As Camara prepared himself to join the Spirit at the age of 15, more than four years ago, tragedy struck. Brooke, just 19, would die unexpectedly.
She died from encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain.
Camara still thinks a lot about his sister. A week ago, it was one of the happiest days of his life when the Boston Bruins signed the rugged power forward to a three-year entry-level NHL contract. He knew Brooke would be so proud of him.
“I definitely thought about her that day and I always think about her,” said the six-foot-one, 194-pound winger, who was Boston’s third-round pick (81st overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
“She was always someone I looked up to," he added.
Camara wasn’t the only one beaming the day Camara signed his first pro contract.
“I was just as happy as him, I think,” Scheifele said. “I was definitely really pumped for him. He knows he deserves it. He’s worked his butt off to get a contract and get that foot in the door.
“He’s going to definitely continue working on his game and I’m happy for him, and can’t wait to see what he does as a pro.”
Losing a loved one is never easy. Scheifele knows his good buddy has been through some difficult times and has always tried to be there for him. Not only to support his good friend, but to listen to him if anything is ever bothering him.
“We’re very tight and we tell each other everything and that’s a huge thing,” Scheifele said. “We have that trust on and off the ice, and I think that’s a huge thing as linemates.
“I’m always here for him when he’s down and I’m always going to be the person that’s going to be there to help him,” Scheifele added. “Tough times, good times, I’m always going to be there and it’s the same vice versa.”
The rough-and-tumble Camara is the type of player opposing players hate to play against. Put your head down and he’ll punish you. When going into the corners, defencemen look over their shoulders when he’s on the ice.
He can throw body checks with the best of them in junior hockey. A wrecking ball who backs it up with a pretty good right cross.
But Camara can also score. He did it in minor hockey, but in Saginaw his role early on was more of a physical one.
It wasn’t until he was traded to Barrie and it wasn’t until he landed on Scheifele’s left wing that Camara blossomed and took his junior game to a whole new level.
“I’ve always had (a scoring touch), in minor hockey and stuff like that,” Camara said. “I just felt when I came here (Scheifele) reminded me a little bit to take the puck and make the moves. He gave me a lot of confidence to do it.”
Scheifele knows Camara had that part of the game in him all along. He just wanted to motivate him a little, tell Camara he can play that game as well.
“He’s always had skill,” said the rangy six-foot-three, 187-pound centreman. “He was a first-rounder with Saginaw and he has a lot of skill, and I think he got pushed to more of a checking role. But he really brought (offence) when he came to Barrie.
“I think our whole team knows he has a whole lot of skill," Scheifele added. "He can score, he can pass. He can do it all.”
Which is exactly why Scheifele told Camara over the summer he could play for Canada at this year’s world junior hockey championship in Russia.
The two friends talked and texted each other throughout the summer. Scheifele wanted Camara to know that he could line up against the elite junior hockey players in the world and succeed.
Camara rocketed out of the gate in September, was selected to play for Team OHL in the Subway Super Series against Russia and then invited to Team Canada’s selection camp, where he made the team. It was a dream come true.
“I told him in the summer, ‘You can be here’,” said Scheifele, who has hit the ice with the national squad twice. “I think that helped him have that confidence, knowing he can be there. He pushed himself and I tried to help him along as much as I could.
“I really think he did so much on his own to get stronger and bigger, and improve his skills. He did a great job of that and he’s going to be a great pro one day. I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Scheifele’s encouragement certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed by Camara.
“He’s definitely helped me out a lot of the way and during this long season,” Camara said.
As this year’s playoff run has just started, Scheifele, Camara and Hall know it could be the last time the three amigos get to play together on the same line.
With pro careers on the horizon, they’d love to make one last big run at doing something special here in Barrie.
“We know we have a team to do some damage in the playoffs,” Scheifele said. “We know we want to go to the Memorial Cup, and that’s our goal. Everyone is on the same page.”
After that, Camara has already planned out what will be on tap this summer.
That means getting Scheifele to move from his hometown of Kitchener to Toronto so he can hang out with his buddy.
“I’m going to get him to move to a real town,” Camara said, laughing out loud.
Hey, Camara says he’s just looking after his buddy.
And isn’t that what best friends do?
Gene Pereira covers the Barrie Colts for the Barrie Examiner.