Monday, July 22, 2013

Part 24: Cameron Wind

The Brampton Battalion played 1,020 Ontario Hockey League regular-season games. Cameron Wind skated in more than 28 percent of them.

Defenceman Wind finished his five-year major junior career with 291 games played, most in club history. He eclipsed the previous mark of 269 held by Luke Lynes in a 4-2 road loss to the Plymouth Whalers on Jan. 11.

The first player to play five seasons with the Battalion, Wind, a 21-year-old from Barrie, said he began the season unaware he was making club history.

“Earlier in the season somebody let me know that I had passed someone on the list and I would probably set the record,” Wind said after a recent Battalion home game. “I had no idea at that point that I could set the record. I had no idea I was the first guy to play five seasons here.

“Your first season, every month can seem like a year. It feels like you are home sick all the time and the season drags on if you aren’t playing. But the following seasons go by so quickly. This season, I went to bed in September and woke up and it’s now February.”

A third-round pick in the 2008 OHL Priority Selection, Wind recalled journeying with his father to a Battalion home game prior to the process and having a postgame meeting with Stan Butler, director of hockey operations and head coach.

“I was lucky enough to get a chance to come here. Looking back on it, it was pretty dumb, but I remember telling some teams I didn’t want to report to them. I thought I would go in the first round, and once the third round came around, my agent called and asked me if I would go to Brampton when its turn came up if I was still on the board. I said I would and I have no regrets about that.”

Wind joined centre Sam Carrick, the Battalion’s first-round pick, as 16-year-old rookies on a team loaded with veteran talent.

“I remember it like it was yesterday when Stan asked me what number I wanted,” said Wind. “I didn’t play many games that first season, but I was lucky enough to be here with all those great players.”

Wind played 28 games as a rookie with only five coming after Butler had added a number of important pieces by the OHL’s Jan. 9 trade deadline. He did not see any playoff action as the Battalion advanced to the OHL Championship Series, falling in five games to the Windsor Spitfires.

“I only played 28 games then, I might play 28 minutes a game now. It was a struggle at times because when you’re 16 you can get home sick and it’s frustrating if you aren’t playing. At the time I might not have understood that I was getting better just by being around that team, practising with them and watching their games. Guys like Cody Hodgson, Matt Duchene and Evgeny Grachev were world-class players.

“Duchene and Hodgson were the best players I have ever played with or against. Guys like Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin were up there too and, I might be biased, but Duchene is probably the most skilled guy I have ever seen. Hodgson is the smartest player.”

Wind said practising against his teammates could be a chore.

“We do a drill in practice where the forwards start on the goal line and the defencemen skate backwards from the faceoff dot and it’s a one-on-one race. I would have to catch up to Duchene and Grachev and those guys would just fly. I got a lot better in that first season. Stan stuck by me and didn’t send me down to junior A.

“I will tell everyone that Hodgson and Brad Albert were the best leaders I’ve ever had. Watching Cody lead the team, with all the talent we had, and all the guys we picked up at the deadline, was great. He organized that team and helped us all play better. It was an awesome experience watching those guys handle their business off the ice and watch how they played on the ice.”

Wind became a regular the following season and played 66 games, contributing three goals and eight assists for 11 points. With much of its potent offence gone, the Battalion became a defensive-minded team anchored by veteran goaltender Patrick Killeen and experienced defencemen Albert, Matt Clark and Ken Peroff.

“I created an identity for myself in my second year as an all-round defenceman,” said Wind, who was often paired with overager Albert. “That season was fun. It was really my first season, since I didn’t really play much as a rookie. That second season was when I was thrown into the fire and started playing big minutes with Albert. The games were a lot of fun because the coaches relied heavily on Peroff and Clark to shut down the first line so Albert and I had to take care of the second line. Killeen would always stand on his head.

“I try to model my game after Clark’s because at that time he was probably the best shutdown defenceman in the OHL. I had great chemistry with Albert.”

After getting passed over the 2010 National Hockey League Entry Draft, Wind accepted a free-agent invitation to attend the Nashville Predators training camp.

“That was an awesome experience. I didn’t know what to think after I got passed up in the draft, but I went to Nashville and they are a team known for defencemen. I got to skate with guys like Shea Weber and Ryan Ellis and it opened my eyes to the pro hockey world.”

With Albert, Clark and Peroff gone, Wind, 19-year-old Kyle Pereira and 17-year-old Zach Bell, who had played 46 games the previous season, were expected to shoulder the burden at the back end in 2010-11. Their job was compounded by the inconsistent play of two inexperienced goalies, 17-year-old Jacob Riley, who played 10 games in 2009-10, and Swiss import Dennis Saikkonen.

“It was tough, especially with two young goalies,” said Wind, who scored one goal and added 14 assists for 15 points in 66 games on his way to earning Battalion player and defenceman of the year honours. “Bell didn’t play much as a 16-year-old so that year was probably his first real OHL season. That season was huge for me as far as development went. I never seemed to come off the ice, I remember playing a game in Windsor where I think I played 35 minutes. Pereira, Bell and I kind of established ourselves that season.”

A frustrated Butler eventually overhauled his goaltending in the span of two days. On Nov. 30 he signed overage free agent Cody St. Jacques and trading Riley to Sudbury and the following day, waived Saikkonen and dealt Pereira to the Guelph Storm for 17-year-old Matej Machovsky.

“St. Jacques was like a third defenceman, he could play the puck so well,” said Wind.  “Machovsky was an awesome backup and once St. Jacques left he became the starter and is probably one of the best in the league right now.”

Wind, who has been partnered with Bell since 2010-11, played the entire 68-game schedule last season, producing 21 points, including two goals. He scored the series-clinching goal at 14:47 of the second overtime as the Battalion beat the host Sudbury Wolves 4-3 to earn a sweep of their first-round playoff series.

“This is a perfect fit for me. Stan is a big defensive coach and I have loved matching up against high-powered offensive teams. Bell and I always take that challenge on. It’s a new challenge every night and I can sleep easier at night if I know we did a good job against the other team’s top line.

“This has been my home. I have had some highs and lows, both on and off the ice. This has been an awesome experience and I am probably going to shed some tears when it’s all over.”

A second-year student at the University of Guelph, Wind has his eyes set on attending school next fall.

“I will definitely go to school somewhere. I will keep playing hockey and once I am done school I might go to Europe. My dad’s background is Dutch, so I might go play in the Netherlands or somewhere else in Europe. I have never been over there, that will probably be a good experience.”

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