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BLUELINES: Hey, did you see Cam Dineen last night?

“I always thought I could play. I had confidence in myself and I think I’m proving myself right, right now.”
Cam Dineen, a rising star on the Battalion blue line. File photo by Tom Martineau.

"Bluelines" is written by Ranjan Rupal, the play-by-play voice, and Greg Theberge, a former Memorial Cup winner and Washington Capitals defenseman and hockey analyst for the OHL Tonight on CogecoTV. 

I’m starting to hear that a lot lately. 

Something special is happening at Memorial Gardens these days…something worth seeing with your own eyes.

A quiet, unassuming 17-year old kid from Toms River, New Jersey named Cam Dineen has taken the OHL by storm, asserting himself as the second-highest scoring defenseman in the League with 10 goals and 32 assists in 45 games, second only to a 19-year old veteran, Rasmus Andersson, of the Barrie Colts.

Selected in the 11th round of the 2014 OHL Priority Selection, from the New Jersey Rockets U19 club, Dineen had indicated his intent to play at Yale University, but changed his mind and ventured to North Bay to play for the Battalion.

For hockey fans in this city, Dineen’s arrival represents a first of sorts.  We’ve seen our share of bona fide OHL stars, from Barclay Goodrow and Dylan Blujus, to Nick Paul and Mike Amadio, but we haven’t seen a player excel at such a prodigiously young age, and that’s what makes this kid worth seeing.

Paired with Austin Kosack at the beginning of the season, Dineen was a diligent worker, occasionally joining the rush, but not too often, testing the waters presumably, making sure he was respecting the League, sage advice for most newcomers and, despite this most cautious introduction, he would end up on the score sheet on most nights, an assist here, a couple there, conjuring images of a player like Brian Rafalski, an offensively-gifted defenseman from the glory days of the New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings.

But lately Dineen has become emboldened, perhaps by his pairing with big Kyle Wood, perhaps by a strong conviction in his own ability, displaying a propensity to dazzle onlookers, leaping into the rush with precision timing, as if he’d been in the League four seasons already, and not the four months he actually has. 

“I just want to keep getting better defensively. I think I’ve already improved a lot,” said Dineen, following his last-second, game-tying goal against the Guelph Storm. “I always thought I could play.  I had confidence in myself and I think I’m proving myself right, right now.”

Dineen is the likeable son of Kevin (the high school principal, not the similarly-named retired pro hockey player), and Melissa, a banker and former high school soccer star.  Blessed with boyish charm, he communicates easily with the local media, listening intently to questions, offering thoughtful replies to a peppering of questions on an array of topics: his adaptation to the OHL; whether fatigue has affected him on an injury-plagued defense; whether he’s disappointed at his NHL Central Scouting Service ranking, though at #117 he will certainly hear his name called at the Draft.

His grace off the ice is matched by his remarkable poise on the ice, and those in attendance at Memorial Gardens bear witness with a growing sense of amazement.

“I think he’s a wonderful little player,” said Sandra Harkness, a passionate hockey fan and Battalion season-ticket holder.  “He just knows when to jump into the rush with Amadio and Santos. I think he should be ranked #17, never mind #117.”

Greg Theberge, the hockey analyst for The OHL Tonight on CogecoTV, offered similar praise.

“What I’ve noticed most is his great ability to find the open shooting lanes and also the way he can find the open pockets to create scoring opportunities.  He’s very composed, with a self-assured manner that allows him to be ready and prepared to do something every shift.”

“His play recognition, his radar, his ability to see things developing is exceptional at that age.”

Yet for all the exuberance, be it irrational or otherwise, Battalion director of hockey operations Stan Butler, the one who bears sole responsibility for nurturing Dineen’s development, has been able to view the budding star’s emergence with a healthy dose of pragmatism.

“Too early to tell,” demurred Coach Butler, on the topic of Dineen’s promise, though his sobering message was betrayed somewhat by a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.  “I’ve coached a lot of pretty damn good players – Norris Trophy winners – I think he’s got the potential to be special, but he’s got a ways to go.”