MONTREAL – Many National Hockey League players not participating in the Olympics took advantage of the break to seek out some warm weather, including Montreal Canadiens sniper Mike Cammalleri.
Except his fun in the sun had to be squeezed in between rehabilitation treatments for his injured right knee, and he travelled to Florida with an entourage that included a strength coach and physiotherapist.
Cammalleri’s stay in the Sunshine State consisted of leg strengthening exercises in the morning, upper body workouts in the afternoon, and treatment on the knee in the evening.
“I did that every day through the break,” Cammalleri said Friday, just after his Canadiens teammates practised without him. “In between workouts I tried to get as much sun as I could by the pool.”
Cammalleri injured the MCL on his right knee on Jan. 30 when Ottawa Senators defenceman Anton Volchenkov collided into him, sending him sprawling awkwardly into the boards.
The original prognosis for Cammalleri’s return was six weeks, which would have him back playing by mid-March, and he said Friday that he looks to be on schedule.
“They told me it would be a six-week thing at the onset, and they’re saying we’re not ahead or behind as far as how my leg’s responding,” Cammalleri said. “Hopefully we’re on our way. I’m excited to get back on the ice, we’re just not there yet.”
Despite missing the final seven games before the Olympic break, Cammalleri remains the Canadiens top goal producer with 26. He was on pace to at least threaten his career high of 39 goals set last season with the Calgary Flames.
If he were to come back in time for the Canadiens’ game on March 16 against the New York Rangers, it would leave 12 games in the schedule for Cammalleri to give Montreal an extra offensive boost in the final stretch run towards the playoffs.
Sitting in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, with three teams nipping at their heels, each of the Canadiens remaining 19 games will carry playoff-like importance the rest of the way. But Cammalleri says those circumstances will not play a role in his return to the ice.
“The biggest challenge for us as athletes is you want to get back playing and you want to push things that way,” said Cammalleri, who signed a five-year, US$30-million contract with the Canadiens in the off-season. “But the organization and the staff want you better for this year and next year and the years to come. It’s not an injury you can rush either. I’ve had injuries before like sprained wrists where you can play at 80 per cent and not shoot the puck as hard, or not make the moves you might want to, but you can get away with it. But your legs are your legs.”
Still, Cammalleri says he’s doing everything in his power to cut the recovery time as much as possible, including a change in his diet.
“I’m trying to do my best,” he said. “I was eating all organic and eating a lot of fish oils. I ate organic for one week, I wanted to do anything I could do to maybe try and get some nutrients. I try to eat organic anyways, but I went strictly organic for one week.”
When Cammalleri got hurt the Canadiens had gone three full games without scoring an even strength goal. Considering Cammalleri has scored 22 of his 26 goals at even strength, it was widely assumed that situation would only get worse.
Somewhat surprisingly, Montreal managed to go 4-3-0 without its top scorer and put in 21 goals over that span, 16 of them at even strength.
That ability to shake off key injuries has been a recurring theme for the Canadiens this season, one where only four players – Tomas Plekanec, Josh Gorges, Travis Moen and Maxim Lapierre – have dressed for every game. Defenceman Andrei Markov missed 35 games, winger Andrei Kostitsyn has missed 23, winger Brian Gionta another 21, winger Benoit Pouliot missed 20, and the list goes on and on.
Cammalleri said he’s not surprised the team remains in the hunt in spite of those key losses, and that using injuries as an excuse represents a “defeatist attitude.”
“You’ve got what you’ve got and you find ways to win,” he said. “If you don’t, you’re not good enough.”
After practice Monday the Canadiens depart for a four-game road swing that will take them to Boston, San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim, returning home for a March 9 game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
That date is pretty close to six weeks after Cammalleri’s injury, but he refused to say if he will join his teammates on the road trip, nor would he speculate when he expects he’ll be able to begin skating.
“I’ll agree that I’m pretty in tune with my body, but I’m not going to tell you exactly how I feel as far as time goes,” he said. “The staff here is doing everything they can to get me better.”