TOMS RIVER – Cam Dineen, the Toms River High School North senior, has signed an entry level contract with the Arizona Coyotes of the National Hockey League. Dineen was selected on the third round (68th overall) by the Coyotes in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
“It has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid,” Dineen said. “As I became older, I realized I was on the right path. It is becoming more of a reality. When I was drafted, I realized the dream was that much closer. The time it takes to become an NHL player is different for everyone. It takes the average player two to three years to get their shot in the NHL. It is different for everyone, depending on the needs of the team.”
Dineen hopes to begin play in the American Hockey League – the minor league of the NHL – in 2018-19.
“It will be a process,” he said. “Once you get your chance, you have to make sure they know you can stay.”
Dineen played in 29 games in 2016-17 with the North Bay Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League. He put home six goals and handed out eight assists for 14 points. He was charged with eight penalty minutes. The OHL consists of junior players under the age of 20.
“The OHL contains all of the best players in Ontario and the East Coast of the United States,” Dineen said. “The season began a little rough and the team was not doing well. You have to be patient and keep putting up the numbers. That is what Arizona is expecting of me.”
The 6-foot Dineen, a defenseman, tore the medial collateral ligament in his right knee halfway through the season during game action.
“I was coming up the middle of the ice,” he said. “I made a pass and got hit knee to knee with an opposing player. My knee buckled. During an MRI exam a week later, I learned the MCL was torn and that I would need surgery (he was under the knife for almost two hours). At first, the injury hurt a lot. Once I got into the trainer’s room and iced it up and it was fine. My team’s trainer felt it was a sprain.
“The Arizona trainers said the MCL is the least important ligament in the knee. They were glad it was not the anterior cruciate ligament.”
Dineen spent his time off the ice working with a North Bay trainer.
“I did exercises to get my quadriceps and hamstrings going,” he said. “I eventually did some squats and dead lifts, rode the bike and ran in order to get all of the muscles in my knee back in working order.”
These days, Dineen sports a clean bill of health.
“It is 100 percent,” he said. “I would have been medically cleared by the doctors to play if we had made the playoffs. I was cleared to play during the final week of the regular season. Since I was cleared, I have been training and skating on the knee. Everything is good. I feel I gained a lot of strength from the rehabilitation program.”
There will be few – if any – days at the beach this summer for Dineen. He will be off to camp in Arizona on June 25. He will be working out all of July and part of August with the Coyotes’ strength and conditioning coach and their skating guru.
“I feel pretty good mentally,” he said. “This is a pretty exciting time. Arizona has given me things to work on. They feel I need to become stronger to help me with my defensive play. They don’t feel my skating is bad, but they feel it can be better. I will work on a little bit of everything with my skating. They feel my skating can be much better if I put in the work with my skating coach.”
Dineen enjoyed a productive 2015-16 season with North Bay. He netted 13 goals and dished off 46 assists for 59 points in 68 games. He registered the second-highest points among OHL defensemen. He was named to the OHL’s all-rookie team. And he tied for second in the voting for the OHL Rookie of the Year.
“My hockey sense and skill get me involved in the offense,” he said. “You have to be able to read the play and pass the puck well. That requires a lot of hockey sense. You have to be able to move the puck up the ice and jump into the play.”
The 195-pound Dineen left North after his freshman year to pursue his options in junior ice hockey. As a youngster, he played with the Blackhawks of the Toms River Hockey Club. He continued his career with the Bridgewater-based New Jersey Rockets and was off to the OHL.
Dineen hails from an ice hockey family.
His father, Kevin, played for North’s Mariners. A brother, Ryan, competes for North and the Brick Township-based Jersey Shore Whalers. A cousin, Colby Dineen, played for Toms River East and the Brick Hockey Club. Another cousin, Chris Dineen, is a member of the Brick Hockey Club and attends Toms River Intermediate School East. An uncle, Kevin Dineen, grew up in hockey-oriented Buffalo and played for Ocean County College and East Stroudsburg University.
Cam Dineen took to the ice at the age of four, participating in a learn-to-skate program. His dad was a member of the Blackhawks’ program and got his son playing ice hockey at the age of five.
“I liked it right away,” Cam Dineen said. “My dad said I loved the game. We practiced at six in the morning on Sundays. I hated to go to practice, but every little kid hated to go to practice.”