Mikey likes life in Montreal

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

Friendships are postponed when the puck drops.

Michael Cammalleri fully expects those former Calgary Flames teammates he kept in touch with all summer to try and spoil his return to the Saddledome tomorrow night.

"I'm going to enjoy it -- I think those boys are going to make it as hard on me as possible for me to enjoy it, but I think I'm going to enjoy it," said the 27-year-old winger who signed a lucrative US$36-million free-agent deal with the Montreal Canadiens in July.

"Dion (Phaneuf) will be coming hard. Iggy (Jarome Iginla) will be ripping shots off my ankle. Connie (Craig Conroy) will be spearing me or something like that with his dirty stick."

Cammalleri's laugh comes through over a spotty cellphone connection after the Conroy comment.

But the 5-foot-9 sniper who scored 39 goals in a Flames jersey last season is serious about the friendships adding to the competitiveness.

"It's funny, when you play against guys you like and respect, you tend to play harder," Cammalleri said. "The biggest respect I can give to a friend of mine is to play them as hard as I can. And vice-versa for me. That's what you expect."

Off to a 2-0 start with the Habs, life in Montreal has been everything Cammalleri expected when he joined the club he was groomed to hate as the rival of his boyhood favourite Toronto Maple Leafs.

"It's pretty special playing for the Montreal Canadiens. It's an institution. It's a tradition. It's a religion, as they like to call it. It's kind of the centre of the culture that is French Canada," Cammalleri said.

"I got that feel, too, in Calgary. It gave me a good taste of it. The people of Calgary were so passionate about their team, too. You know how much people depend on your game that night."

History is the driving force for Canadiens fans, but Cammalleri says this year's team is trying to make its own "footprint" in Montreal.

"You see what's taken place there -- the Cups that they've won, the names and the faces that are on the wall and in the rafters. There's a responsibility that comes along with it."

Landing in Calgary for his third game as a Hab is part of a whirlwind start to Cammalleri's season.

It began in Toronto, where the Richmond Hill native spent plenty of time playing hockey as a youngster. The Habs opened their year at the Air Canada Centre with a 4-3 overtime win.

Cammalleri earned a pair of assists, including one on the winner in front of friends and family.

"Right in the fire, you know," he said with a laugh.

"It was cool. I saw a few Canadiens Cammalleri jerseys out there -- and I recognized the faces that were wearing them.

"I'm just glad that none of my friends and family got into fights in the stands."

Unsure how people in the Saddledome stands will react to his return, Cammalleri hopes Flames fans understand the salary cap is the only thing that kept him from coming back for a second year in the Flaming C.

"My relationship with management there was good. There was never a dispute or anything, it was just the way things went," he said.

"I thought (the fans) were great.

"I hope I don't get booed."

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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