CALGARY - It would have taken more that just a shoulder injury to keep Michael Cammalleri away from the Heritage Classic.
Not only the game itself between Cammalleri's Montreal Canadiens and the Calgary Flames, but the whole atmosphere.
Cammalleri is one of the rare athletes who not only relishes every moment but wants to perform in the biggest situations.
Which is why, as the days have come closer to the big game, you just knew Cammalleri would be ready. Following Friday's practice at the Saddledome, he professed he'd return after missing more than a month.
"I'm playing," Cammalleri said. "Really happy to be back. It's been a while. This weekend's a special weekend."
Special for so many reasons for the Canadiens sniper, who's netted 13 goals and 31 points in 44 games this season.
For starters, Cammalleri is too much of a competitor to spend extra time on the shelf.
However, being it's an outdoor game in Calgary against his old team, it would have taken wild horses to drag him away.
"When I first got hurt, I didn't really know the time frame or anything. It seemed so far down the road, I didn't think of it," said the winger who suffered an upper body injury believed to be a separated shoulder Jan. 18. "As time got closer and closer, I didn't want to miss it."
After all, he knows what it's like to be part of an outdoor hockey spectacle after skating for the University of Michigan against Michigan State in the Cold War clash of 2001 in front of nearly 75,000 spectators.
From that experience, during which he was a teammate of Flames winger David Moss, Cammalleri has important advice.
"Don't deny yourself the event," he said. "Enjoy it, take it in and be part of it. When it comes to playing, just play the game. I think too much is made of trying to go through your same routine or pretend you're not playing outdoors.
"You are. So embrace it."
As he's done everywhere he's gone.
Cammalleri spent just one season in Calgary, a career-best 39-goal, 82-point 2008-09 campaign.
Although he left for Montreal via free-agency with a five-year, US$30-million contract, he did fall in love with the city and a fanbase which appreciated his abilities.
For trivia buffs, he's the only player other than Jarome Iginla to have led the Flames in goals scored in a season since Val Bure in 1999-2000.
"I had a really good time in Calgary. I was here only the one season, but I seemed to make a lot of really good friends," Cammalleri said. "It feels great to be back. We got in late (Thursday night), but I woke up before my alarm, excited to get around town. I went back to the old supermarket to get some stuff."
Cammalleri is well aware how his former team has turned its fortunes over the past couple of months.
"It's exciting for them. I have some great friends on this team and with Connie (Craig Conroy) involved in management, too," Cammalleri said. "Lately, it's been such a roller-coaster ride for them, but they're playing so well. They look like they're enjoying themselves and winning.
"I hope we beat them (Sunday) night, but after that, I hope they make the playoffs and have a good finish.
"The west is almost comically tight for us fans of the game that are watching it."