The journey figured to be a long one for the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors. Guaranteed to be in the MasterCard Memorial Cup as the event's host team, there was also the usual pile of events that have become the staples of a good junior's career.
Never mind the leagues themselves. You have under-17 and under-18 games, prospects games, Subway Super Series games, world junior camps and maybe the world junior tournament itself. Then the playoffs. "And," added Majors head coach Dave Cameron, "factor in that if you've had guys drafted, they could have been in NHL camps, too.
"We tried to build in the fact that we would be playing until the end of May into our program, so there was a lot more attention paid to rest, to making sure we shortened and maximized our practice time. I know I've never given as much time off as this year. I'm talking two or three times where I've given them a couple days off at a time, and that doesn't usually happen during a junior season."
The Majors finished 53-13-0-2 before losing a frenetic seven-game Ontario Hockey League final to the Owen Sound Attack - blowing a 2-0 lead - and will open the Memorial Cup on Friday night against the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League representatives Saint John Sea Dogs. Talk about not having much time to feel sorry for yourself. "Dave told me at the start of the year that this was going to be a very long year, so there was no point in ever looking too far ahead," said Majors defenceman Stuart Percy.
Percy was rated 53rd overall by NHL Central Scouting in its final rankings, and knows that his performance in the Memorial Cup will be well-scouted. But the hockey world is wondering whether the NHL will come calling for his coach, too. Cameron has been linked to the Ottawa Senators head-coaching vacancy - Senators owner Eugene Melnyk also owns the Majors - and that's just one reason this season has been, for him, about not looking ahead.
Cameron coached the Canadian team at the world junior tournament in Buffalo, and was behind the bench for a third-period collapse in the gold-medal game against Russia that sent the Canadian hockey community into a tizzy. The rest of us just saw one group of teenagers beating another group of teenagers - but, you know, that's just us. Cameron has also dealt with personal issues off-ice: a niece, Kristen Cameron, is trying to put her life back together after suffering a broken spine incurred when she was hit by a suspected drunk driver who was driving while suspended. So the man has perspective.
As far as coaching? His team's recent loss in the OHL championship reinforced one thing in his mind: "That generation deals with it a lot better than us old fogeys," he said, chuckling.
Percy says his head coach was hurting after the gold-medal game. "But we had a road trip to [Sault St. Marie]the day he got back, and after that trip up north … yeah, I think he managed to let it go."
Nothing like a trip to the Soo, eh? Cameron chuckled. He was on the bus to the Soo a little more than 12 hours after crossing the border following the loss in Buffalo, then immediately threw himself into working the trade deadline as well as coaching. A quick bout of the flu after it was all done, and he was good to go.
"In this business you have to have a thick skin, and take the disappointments and the success and keep an even keel," Cameron said. "I've told people: 'Thank God it didn't happen 10 years ago or it might have set me over the edge.' "
The Majors are a veteran group, with a core that has been together for three years. There aren't many secrets in that dressing room. "The thing you try to teach them," Cameron said, "is that you can't get comfortable."
Examples abound for the Majors.