February 17, 2012
Flames' Cammalleri front and centre
By RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency
LOS ANGELES - The question nearly stumped Calgary Flames head coach Brent Sutter.
Would he consider keeping Michael Cammalleri at centre when some of the clubs injured men of the middle, notably Mikael Backlund and Blair Jones, return to action?
"I haven't got that far with it. I'm just thinking about our next game with the team we do have," Sutter said while soaking up some Los Angeles sunshine following the club's practice Friday afternoon. "When guys start coming back, we'll have to see. I'm really comfortable with Cammy there. I really think he can handle it."
Besides, the coach pointed out, both Jones and Backlund are likely out until the end of March.
"By then, Cammy may have six weeks of being a centre by then, and might be the top centre in the National Hockey League," Sutter said with a laugh.
That would be a pie-in-the-sky dream for the Flames, but Cammalleri has fared remarkably well after a couple of games at centre.
Then again, it's not like he's completely new to the position. He just hasn't played it with any regularity since the 2004-05 season, with the AHL's Manchester Monarchs.
It was once he became a full-time NHLer with the Los Angeles Kings the following season that Cammalleri was moved to the wing, seemingly on a permanent basis.
"Sometimes it happens in our league, you get pigeon-holed in certain spots," Cammalleri said. "I guess I was able to have success at the wing position and that's where I ended up staying, but we'll see how it goes.
"I've enjoyed it. I really like it. I've always said I think it's my natural position and the position I can help the team the most. I've enjoyed it for two games and I hope I can keep on getting better at it."
Cammalleri is actually listed as a centre by the NHL in the league's publications and on its websites, even though he hasn't skated in the middle since racking up 46 goals and 109 points for the Monarchs during the NHL lockout.
"I just had played it my whole life," he said. "But I had no problem playing on the wing and enjoy the challenge. Whatever fits best on the team, and right now, that's where I'm needed."
Right now, with Olli Jokinen, Roman Horak and Matt Stajan the other centres currently healthy, the club needed somebody to take a second-line role.
Cammalleri has been mainly playing between Blake Comeau and Tom Kostopoulos, although Sutter may switch up things, albeit without breaking up his No.-1 trio of Jokinen, Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla.
"He seems to be excited about it," Sutter said. "When someone's played that position before, it's always naturally there for you. Asking a winger to be a centre is harder than asking a centre to go to being a winger."
Plus, it allows Cammalleri to be more involved in the action. That part of his game was on display during Thursday's 3-2 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars. Not only did he score the game-tying goal, but Cammalleri was the club's best forward from start to finish.
"What the centre position allows you to do is keep your feet going on breakouts and through the neutral zone," he said. "You can get the puck in situations where you maybe see the ice and are able to do a little more offensively, whereas on the wing, it's a different dynamic. I hope as time goes on I get more comfortable."
On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak