CALGARY – Mike Cammalleri is going to have precious little time to readjust to life in Calgary before being thrown right in the middle of the Flames’ playoff push.
He can’t wait to get started.
“I’m excited to be back,” Cammalleri said Friday, one day after Calgary acquired him from the Montreal Canadiens in a multi-player deal. “It’s been a whirlwind. It’s nice to get here, get here in the locker-room and get ready to play hockey again. I can’t wait.”
Calgary hasn’t made the playoffs since the 2008-09 season, when Cammalleri had career highs in goals (39) and points (82) before leaving for Montreal as a free agent.
The Flames are hoping Cammalleri can quickly find chemistry with his ex-teammates again, but he’ll just have Saturday’s game-day skate to get reaquainted before stepping right into game action that night with the Los Angeles Kings at the Saddledome. The Kings are currently in eighth place in the Western Conference, three points ahead of the Flames.
“He’s going to be thrown right into the fire,” says Flames coach Brent Sutter. “There isn’t going to be any practice time or anything like that, but he’s a smart player and he knows the game and he’ll adjust very quickly.”
Sutter, who has never coached Cammalleri before, has not yet made up his mind on who his newest acquisition will play with. Jarome Iginla and Cammalleri played well together three years ago when Cammalleri’s 39 goals led the team.
But the Flames’ top unit of Olli Jokinen centring Iginla and Curtis Glencross is currently red-hot and it’s doubtful he’ll break up that trio.
Cammalleri is just happy to be in the hunt for a playoff spot with players he knows.
“I had such a great experience here my last time here. There’s so many familiar people for me in this locker-room,” he said. “I know where the team stands right now. It’s an exciting thing to be a part of to be three points out of a playoff spot right here and coming in for a big push here on this end of the season. It’s exciting for me, so it means a lot to be back.
“I would have liked to stay the first time around. The experience was great and I thought we had a pretty good team at the time. It was exciting then too.”
Cammalleri will be looked upon to inject some scoring into an offince that ranks in the bottom third in the league.
“One of the main reasons I was brought here is to produce offensively,” he said. “That’s something I’ll look to provide for sure.
“I would imagine I’ll be pretty excited. It’ll be fun for me to get out there. I’ll probably go out there really anxious and excited and be exhausted after 10 seconds and make it a quick short one.”
Cammalleri’s presence will give the Flames an emotional boost against the Kings, and it comes after they got some good news Thursday with the return of steady defenceman Mark Giordano, who had missed 21 games with a hamstring injury.
“I know Cammy personally. I played with him before and know him from back home. The guy works exceptionally hard off ice and on ice and we all know what kind of damage he can do around the net with the puck,” Giordano said. “Any time you see guys like that who take a lot of pride in off-ice stuff and commitment in the gym and carry it over onto the ice.
“Cammy, he’s a very confident player and that rubs off on guys.”
Cammalleri will be wearing jersey No. 93, a departure from his No. 13, currently worn by Jokinen. With Jokinen wearing No. 21, the two were teammates for the latter part of the 2009 season after Jokinen was acquired in a trade with Phoenix.
“I didn’t have a lot of options. There’s a lot of numbers taken,” said the native of Richmond Hill, Ont. “Pretty simply put, I thought of Dougie Gilmour. He played here. I know he was wearing No. 39. I grew up in Toronto as a kid watching him play for the Leafs with 93. That was one of the kind of five numbers that was sent in a text message to me with kind of some options. I said sure.”
Perhaps no one on the Flames is yearning for playoff hockey more than defenceman Jay Bouwmeester. The league’s reigning ironman with 551 consecutive games played in the regular season, the 28-year-old has yet to appear in a playoff game in his eight seasons.
“Whenever something like this happens, it shakes things up,” says Bouwmeester. “We’re playing a little better now with three wins in a row and hopefully this adds to that and we can keep rolling and keep moving up the standings.”
Calgary is currently tied with Phoenix for 11th in the Western Conference, three points out of the final playoff spot.
“All you really have todo is get in, then it’s a fresh start for everyone,” said Bouwmeester. “It seems like every year there is at least one or two lower teams, whether it’s the eighth seed or whatever, that end up going a long way. So, right now the focus is just to get there.”
—With files from Laurence Heinen.