As anguishing, disappointing and humbling as last hockey season was for everyone on UAA -- 4-25-7 pierces to the core -- no one felt more helpless than Brett Cameron.
He suffered a fractured left clavicle in the ninth game and was done for the season after surgeons pieced him back together with a titanium plate and 10 screws. He watched the misery unfold for his teammates, and there was nothing he could do to stem it.
Cameron couldn't work out. The painkillers he initially required dulled his senses and made school difficult. He was still part of the team, of course, but from a disconnected distance, as players usually are when enduring long-term injury. That is especially true for a junior expected at season's start to furnish leadership but is suddenly stuck at home while his teammates essentially traveled to road series every other weekend.
"It was awful,'' Cameron, 23, recalled. "I personally think I was a bit depressed, being injured so long. But I had my family and the boys being supportive, and now I'm looking at the positive, which is getting a red-shirt year.
"It was hard, though. I talked to my family back home a lot, texted them every day. I had a girlfriend and she was awesome.''
Still, as UAA prepares to open the season Friday under first-year coach Matt Thomas in its Kendall Hockey Classic, no player embraces the school's marketing slogan -- "It's a new day''-- like Cameron.
He has not played a hockey game in more than 10 months, so stepping onto the ice each day feels like a gift.
"I'm pretty happy to be playing again,'' Cameron said, "because I know what it's like not to play. Honestly, every day I wake up and (hockey) is the first thing I think about.''
After earning 4-8--12 totals in 36 games as a freshman and 5-8--13 totals in 31 games as a sophomore, Cameron, like his teammates, struggled last season. He didn't have a point in the nine games he played before his injury.
Still a junior after receiving a medical red-shirt season from the NCAA, Cameron is not only embracing his return, he's also embracing a new position. Until now, the 6-foot-2, 202-pounder has exclusively played wing for UAA. Thomas, seeking more size in the pivot, has moved Cameron to center, a position Cameron hasn't played in roughly a decade.
"I really liked the way he was skating the first few weeks (of training), really liked his speed,'' Thomas said. "I thought we needed another big body at center ice besides (6-1, 201-pound senior Matt) Bailey, to create a so-called checking line. We're still in the trying-out process with it.''
At center, Cameron is required to cover more ice than at wing, and the position requires more defensive responsibility. He'll also have to sharpen up on face-offs.
"It's definitely a change,'' Cameron said. "I told (Thomas) I'll do whatever he wants. I'm happy to take on that responsibility.''
Cameron recovered enough to begin workouts when he returned home to Spruce Grove, Alberta, after the spring semester ended last season, and it felt like starting from scratch. First day in the gym, he discovered he could not manage one bench-press repetition of 185 pounds. By summer's end, Cameron could bench nearly 100 pounds more than that.
"I've never been stronger,'' he said.
And he's never been more eager for the puck to drop on a season.
"I've never been as happy as I am right now,'' he said.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Kendall Hockey Classic
At Sullivan Arena
UAF vs. Air Force, 5:07 p.m.
Quinnipiac at UAA, 8:07 p.m.
UAF vs. Quinnipiac, 4:07 p.m.
Air Force at UAA, 7:07 p.m.