BROSSARD, Que. – Michael Cammalleri is cautiously optimistic that his injured shoulder will heal in time for the outdoor Heritage Classic game on Sunday.
The occasion is special for the Montreal Canadiens winger not only because it will be played before about 40,000 fans at McMahon Stadium, but because it is against his former team, the Calgary Flames.
“It depends on how the body reacts here, but trust me, I would love to play in that game and I’ll do everything I can to be there, so we’ll see how it goes,” Cammalleri said Monday after his first practice with his teammates since suffering a suspected separated shoulder on Jan. 18.
He will miss an 11th game in a row when the Buffalo Sabres visit the Bell Centre on Tuesday night and isn’t likely to play Thursday night in Edmonton, but there is a good chance he will be ready for Sunday.
The Canadiens were relieved to see winger Max Pacioretty back at practice after he left a 3-0 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night with what appeared to be a left arm or shoulder injury. Pacioretty said only that he was “dinged up” and that he left only as a precaution and that is wasn’t a serious injury.
Forward Mathieu Darche was also back at practice after sitting out two games with a lower body injury and may be ready, but defenceman Hal Gill remains sidelined with an upper body issue, although he skated on his own. Defenceman Josh Gorges and Andrei Markov are out for the season with knee injuries.
Cammalleri had career highs of 39 goals and 82 points in his only season in Calgary in 2008-09 before signing a five-year deal as a free agent with Montreal.
The 28-year-old hopes to play in a second major outdoor contest, having scored a pair of goals in the 2001 Cold War game for the University of Michigan against Michigan State before 74,544 at Spartan Stadium.
“It was the first in North America,” Cammalleri recalled. “It had the whole college rivalry, tailgating experience. I just remember it being a lot of fun.”
What Cammalleri found surprising about a game played before more than three times the regular crowds at the 21,273-seat Bell Centre was how it felt quiet on the ice.
“Because the rink is so much smaller than the stadium, it felt like we were playing on a pond by ourselves somewhere,” he said. “Then a roar would come from the crowd and you’d look up and there would be 75,000 people watching.”
The Canadiens have no players left from the original Hertiage Classic played in 2003, when they defeated the Oilers 4-3 before 57,000 at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. It was minus-18 C that night, with a bone-chilling wind. Much milder weather is forecast for Calgary.
Between Cammalleri and defenceman James Wisniewski, who played for the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL Winter Classic in 2009 at Wrigley Field against the Detroit Red Wings, they have two with outdoor experience.
“The wind is a factor if it’s windy because it’s tougher if you’re going into it,” said Wisniewski. “And then it’s just trying to stay warm, especially if certain guys don’t plays certain aspects of the game, like special teams. They can get a little tight.”
Cammalleri added: “The sticks now are so light, I remember feeling the wind on my shaft. That was cool.”
Wisniewski said players in Chicago were concerned about the blinding effect of sunlight reflected off the ice and were hoping for a cloudy day because “if you don’t see a guy coming you could get steamrollered.”
A difference with the Winter Classic is that instead of being played in mid-season on Jan. 1, the Hertiage Classic comes with the playoff races reaching full steam, so the intensity level should be higher.
“It’s a big non-conference game and the two points are huge,” Wisniewski said. “Especially being at the end of February when the points are getting harder to get. We’re at the point where every point counts.”