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by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
Kings forward Michael Cammalleri did not have a lot of time to think about his role in the upcoming World Championships in Latvia.

By the time it was officially announced by Team Canada on May 5, Cammalleri had already gotten on a plane the first thing that morning en route to Europe.

"Yeah, I'm excited," Cammalleri said from Los Angeles before boarding the long flight. "Obviously I'm excited. I got a chance to play for Canada in a couple of World Juniors and Under-18, so it's always been a big honor for me to play for Canada.

Named to the club by Team Canada General Manager Ken Holland (Detroit Red Wings) and Assistant General Manager Mike Barnett (Phoenix Coyotes), Cammalleri and future Hall of Famer Brendan Shanahan were two of several key players announced to Team Canada's official roster for the 2006 IIHF World Championship in Riga, Latvia.

The tournament, in its entirety, runs from May 5-21.

A native of Richmond Hill, Ontario, Cammalleri understands what an honor it is to wear the prestigious Team Canada sweater, even at the young age of 23.

"It's a special feeling," Cammalleri said. "I grew up watching Team Canada in any event they were playing in as a kid and I always remembered that those were my heroes. I remember watching on TV and living and dying with Team Canada as a fan as a kid and now having the responsibility of being one of the guys actually wearing that jersey is a pretty surreal feeling.

"But it's a lot of fun too."

Cammalleri last played for Canada at the 2002 World Juniors in the Czech Republic, where he earned a Silver Medal after leading the tournament in points (11) and goals (seven). Upon hearing the news this past week, the Los Angeles forward first called fellow King and good friend Jeremy Roenick.

According to J.R., he could not have been happier for Cammalleri, who this past season led the Kings in goals (26) and power play goals (15) in just his third NHL season.

"I think people in the United States don't understand what a huge accomplishment that is," Roenick said. "Especially with the Canadian mentality. Anything that's European, anything that's International, is so much more heralded in Canada than even the Stanley Cup. One of the biggest things that they look forward to is when Canada plays other countries.

"For Cammy to be one of the few picks shows just what a talent he is at such a young age. That is a true honor, to be picked at such a young age to represent not only your country but also Canada in particular. It is such a huge national event. Kids grow up in Canada really wanting to play at an International event, not so much at an NHL level, but the World Championships and World Juniors are like the Super Bowl to them.

"Cammy is a part of that, which makes him one of the elite of the elite and that's a special thing for him. I'm really proud of him."

Cammalleri's journey to the NHL did not include playing Junior hockey in his native Canada, the route chosen by a good number of young players north of the border. He instead prospered at the University of Michigan, where he played three full seasons.

The 5-foot-9, 180-pound center said he hoped that his decision several years ago did not factor in Team Canada's decision.

"That was kind of the stigma for awhile, but I think it has kind of changed now. I don't know for sure but I hoped there wouldn't be because I really wanted to play for the World Junior team at the time even though I was going to school in the states. I was fortunate enough to play on two teams and made it on my first try. So I guess it didn't affect it at all."

Cammalleri's effect on the ice for the Kings, this past season in particular, was a great way for him to launch himself into the national spotlight. After leading the American Hockey League in goals during the NHL lockout of 2004-05, Cammalleri elevated his NHL game in '05-06.

Now, he has earned himself to trip to Latvia. The trip will be Cammalleri's first the small country in Northern Europe.

"It's going to be an interesting experience for him there for sure," said the well-traveled Roenick. "It's a beautiful country with a lot of beautiful architecture. He's going to experience a different way of life over there. I'm sure he's really going to enjoy it."

According to Cammalleri, several of his Kings teammates have provided him with background information as to what to expect.

"I know that (Kings teammate) Alexander Frolov actually told me during our rookie year that he once went on vacation in Riga, Latvia, and had a lot of fun, so I first heard about it four years ago. Also, the guys who came home from the Olympics this year said that the Latvian fans were really into it, so it should be a lot of fun."

Despite his unfamiliarity with the territory, Cammalleri should see some familiar faces while overseas. Fellow Kings Dustin Brown and Joe Corvo will be at the World Championships as well, representing the United States. "I'll try to not get run over by Brownie and I'll try not to go for any of Joe's fakes," said Cammalleri with a hearty chuckle. As for the actual tournament, he knows it is Gold Medal or bust.

"Yeah, I think it is always that way for Canada."

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