February 14, 2012
Cammalleri's a middleman
By ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency
CALGARY - The last time Mike Cammalleri lined up to take faceoffs with any regularity, he finished the season with more goals than ever before.
So what if all 46 came as a member of the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs during the lockout seven years back?
The point is … Mikey liked it.
So much so that as the mountain of middlemen started piling up in the Calgary Flames sickbay, Cammalleri sought out head coach Brent Sutter to let him know he’d be happy to move from the wing back to centre if need be.
On Monday, Sutter took No. 93 up on his offer.
“He said to me, ‘If something happens, he could do it,’ so Cammy will get a chance at centre,” said Sutter as Mikael Backlund, his former second-line centre, walked by with his arm in a sling thanks to a Saturday night run-in with Vancouver Canucks tough-guy Andrew Alberts.
“He’s actually excited about it. It’s his natural position.”
Indeed, Cammalleri was drafted as a centre and is listed as such in most hockey periodicals, even though he’s long since established himself as a winger.
“I’ll admit it’s been awhile,” said Cammalleri, 29, who skated between Tom Kostopoulos and Blake Comeau during Monday’s practice in preparation for Tuesday night’s tilt against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs.
“It’s a position I played most of my life to be honest with you. I haven’t played it all that much recently, so it’ll take a little bit of time to get familiar. But it’s a natural position for me.”
After playing parts of two seasons for the Los Angeles Kings as a young prospect, Cammalleri’s career took a major turn that lockout year when the second-round draft pick played between guys like Dustin Brown and even Kostopoulos in Manchester, propelling him to a 26-goal breakout campaign with the Kings the next season.
“When I got to L.A., the centre position was taken, but before that, I played there my whole life,” Cammalleri said, referring to a crew of middlemen that included Craig Conroy, the late Pavol Demitra and Jeremy Roenick, among others.
“I don’t know if winger is easier – it’s different. Your skating patterns and sightlines change a bit. It’s kind of like playing point on the powerplay — when you first go back there it’s just different. I’ll have to adjust. It could just take a little while to get used to.”
That’s the thing — the Flames don’t have “a little while.” Against all odds, they’ve battled back into the thick of the NHL Western Conference’s playoff race despite a litany of injuries that continue to challenge a team surging nonetheless.
To his credit, Flames GM Jay Feaster noted Cammalleri’s ability to play centre the evening he traded back for the re-born Flames player. However, it’s unlikely Feaster saw him playing it so soon.
Acquired to score goals and bolster a powerplay that will be crucial down the stretch, Cammalleri insists the move won’t change him from a shooter to a distributor.
Nor is he worried his size will hamper his ability to play a position most teams see as a big-man’s domain.
“Joe Sakic was probably my favourite centre, and he was 5-10 or 5-11,” said the 5-foot-9 Michigan grad.
“I have no concerns that way. The size thing doesn’t factor into my thinking of the position. The way the game is played it’s more stick on puck and cover lanes.”
Somewhat surprised to be greeted by a large throng of media-types after practice, Cammalleri shrugged off the move that also has plenty to do with last week’s injury to teammate Blair Jones.
“Not all that much has to be made of it,” Cammalleri said with a smile.
“We’re just going to play hockey.”
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