TORONTO — “Keep your head up, McDavid!”
Before the puck dropped to spark Team Cammalleri’s first scrimmage at BioSteel Camp this week, the captain heard someone — probably one of the Stewart brothers, he says — chirp his youngest teammate. You know, the future of the National Hockey League, the one already decked out in Edmonton Oilers pants, gloves and helmet.
“He’ll get a lot of that, but with good reason,” Mike Cammalleri says of fellow BioSteel camper Connor McDavid. “When you have the skill-set he has and you can do the damage to other teams that he thinks he can do, you’ll earn that attention.”
After a four-year drought, all Cammalleri needed to hoist his second BioSteel Cup — the chalice awarded annually to the pre-training-camp camp’s four-on-four tournament champs — was a little help from the NHL’s speediest and most anticipated new duo: McDavid and Taylor Hall.
“We were good together,” McDavid says. “When you play with a guy like that, he has a lot of talents, so when you give him the puck, he’s going to do something good out there.”
The unveiling of the McDavid-Hall duo in a series of formal, albeit friendly, competitive hockey games Thursday drew just a smattering of fans to St. Michael’s Arena in Toronto. What better summer’s day treat than to take your kids to see a pair of No. 1 picks upend Tyler Seguin’s squad 2-1 in a body-check-free (but palpably intense) final?
At one point in the final, Cammalleri screamed at the ref about a near-goal he thought slipped past Team Seguin’s Malcolm Subban: “That went in!”
“Maybe the onlookers are surprised, but guys get really competitive,” Cammalleri says. “We were getting ready for the final, and I was stretching with Connor and Taylor and Max [Domi], and Connor said, ‘I’m a little nervous for this game.’ It was cute.”
“Not really nervous, just anxious,” McDavid qualifies. “I think I just want to win.”
Though McDavid didn’t score in the final scrimmage, he created golden chances aplenty on Subban and stole the puck twice in the same dogged forechecking sequence to help set up teammate Jesse Blacker’s opening goal.
The way Domi did last summer at BioSteel, McDavid quickly won over Cammalleri, a conditioning nut and well-respected NHL veteran.
“The on-ice stuff we can all see, it’s all blatantly obvious, but it’s impressive to get to know him as a person also,” says Cammalleri, 33. “Just really impressed with the way he treats people and the way he is. He’s a pleasant guy to be around, the nicest kid. There’s a level of humility to him.”
The kind of superstar who gets anxious before a no-body-contact scrimmage in August, but only reluctantly holds the trophy, for a couple seconds, so a photographer can capture the moment as DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” blasts through the rink’s loudspeakers.
Bonus Beat: Cammalleri reveals his strategy for assembling the 2015 BioSteel Cup champions
“We only had one true defenceman on our team. Everybody was critical of that. We just tried to draft the best players we could. Nik Antropov played D. Raffi Torres played D. Jesse Blacker was our only natural defenceman, and Tom Wilson played D. And they played D—they didn’t get caught or anything. They played the position. Our goalie [new Carolina Hurricanes signing Rasmus Tirronen] was good, and we were able to get the win.”