UFA, RUSSIA – There is an unwritten rule that when you come to Canada's World Junior hockey selection camp you come clean shaven. So Barrie Colts forward Anthony Camara, owner of one of the thickest beards in hockey, had some serious off-ice work to do in the days before departing for Calgary earlier this month.
"My billet mom wouldn't let me do it in the house," Camara recalls with a smile. "She made me go outside and do it so I wouldn't clog any drains."
When Camara showed up for the next Colts game without the beard he got some weird looks.
"The first-year guys didn't recognize me," said the Boston Bruins prospect. "It was funny. I was walking around the room and there were whispers from guys saying, 'Did we trade for somebody?'"
Camara started growing the beard way back in September when the OHL season started.
His razor broke and, in classic teenager fashion, he figured that was as good a sign as any. But, after months of growing it, Camara had no second thoughts about changing his look. He had come so far in so short of time – from World Junior longshot to selection-camp invitee – that he wasn't about to let a little facial hair... okay, a lot of facial hair... stand in his way.
"I wanted to show them it meant a lot to me and I was dedicated to make the team," he said.
And it worked.
"He looked good," said head coach Steve Spott when asked if he recognized Camara when he arrived at the camp. "He had the five-o'clock shadow already, but he looked good and I give him credit, because he had grown that for a while. We understood how much he wanted to be a part of this team."
A FRIENDLY PUSH
Camara has lived with the same billet family as Mark Scheifele since coming over to Barrie from Saginaw at last year's OHL trade deadline. The pair instantly became good friends.
"We're both good guys," said Scheifele. "We don't have our own selfish needs. We care about each other and we want the best for each other. That's the biggest thing. If one guy wants to do something then we won't say, 'Oh, no I won't drive you,' or anything like that. We're in it for the other guy."
And that's why, when Scheifele was at August's Canada-Russia Challenge, an event used by Spott and his coaching staff to evaluate players, he messaged Camara and urged him to not lose faith in his World Junior dream.
"I told him, 'You could easily be here.' And, I think, from that moment on he was going to set his mind on this and get invited to the selection camp and make the team," said Scheifele, Winnipeg's first-round pick in 2011 and always a lock to make the junior squad after winning bronze a year ago. "He did whatever he could to get his name out there. I put it in his mind to think, 'If Scheif's saying I could be there then that's legit.' Then he got to thinking about it more and more and then he decided to make it his goal."
"I wanted to come here really bad and Scheif pushed me a lot harder," said Camara, who was among the 23 players, who made the cut. "After that I worked out a lot harder, had a lot more determination to get here."
The impact was evident early as Camara earned a spot on Scheifele's line and started scoring. He has already set a career-high in goals with 22 in 30 games. His previous career high, set last year, was 16 in 66 games. And he creates a lot for his teammates even beyond the 18 assists he has.
"Anthony opens up a lot of space for me," said Scheifele. "I know I can go to spots and if one guy touches me he comes in there and lets them know they can't do that. He gives me a lot of space for sure and a lot of protection. He does so much on the line that a lot of people don't notice. He's great in the corners, he moves his feet really well, he's able to spin-off guys and also he's good in front of the net. He bangs in pucks, find pucks that most people can't. He has a strong stick, is strong on his feet. He has that strength to him that a lot of people don't have at that level."
BORN TO BE A BRUIN
Camara, who stands 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, credits Barrie head coach Dale Hawerchuk for not just entrusting him with a top-line role and power-play time, but also teaching him how to turn his hard-nosed game into an offensive force.
"Dale put me in the right situations and gave me pointers about how to play around the net and finish plays," he said.
Based on the scouting report outlined by Scheifele it's no surprise the Bruins scooped up Camara in the third round of the 2011 draft.
"He's that rugged forward that loves to hit, like a Milan Lucic guy, so it's a good fit," said Scheifele. "And to get him in the third round is a steal."
Camara certainly felt at home right away.
"It kind of hit me that they draft the players that I model my game after so I was happy that I could go in there and not have to change my game or style of play," he said.
It's that style of play that Spott was looking for when he picked Camara to play on his fourth unit alongside centre Mark McNeill and JC Lipon, which he has referred to as the, "Canadian grit line."
"I thought he was really, really good against Sweden on Saturday," said Spott. "He was physical, created offence, went to the net. For me, Anthony is realizing the role he has to play here, it's different than the one he plays in Barrie and I think he likes that, because he gets a chance to be that physical player we know he can be."
'I DON'T THINK I'D BE WHERE I AM WITHOUT HIM'
There's a chance Camara would have shaved the beard off even if he wasn't invited to the Canadian selection camp.
"My mom probably wouldn't have liked it for Christmas," he notes.
And you can count Scheifele among those happy to see Camara's chin again.
"I was a little sad to see it go, but it was getting a little out of control. It was fate that he made the selection camp and had to shave it. I think he looks better without it anyway."
In the end it was Camara's play and not his hygiene that earned him a job in Ufa. And so far the experience has been everything he thought it would be way back in the summer.
"Yeah, it's pretty cool. There's definitely a lot of big-name guys here. We're having a great time."
And it's an experience made extra special, because he gets to do it with Scheifele, who may have had other holiday plans had the NHL not been locked out.
"He was a big help in my success," Camara said. "I don't think I'd be where I am without him."