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Cammalleri better, but Classic remains in question

by Adam Kimelman
Montreal Canadiens forward Michael Cammalleri knows how much fun playing a hockey game outdoors can be.

That's why he's doing everything he can to be healthy enough to be in the lineup for the 2011 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic on Feb. 20 (6 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS).

Cammalleri practiced with his teammates Monday for the first time since leaving a Jan. 18 game against the Buffalo Sabres with a dislocated left shoulder. He suffered the injury when Sabres defenseman Mike Weber checked him from behind and Cammalleri fell into the boards.

"I'm doing everything I can to be ready for the game," Cammalleri said during a conference call Monday. "I'm not able to take contact just yet, but I'm working on it. So I feel good."

Cammalleri experienced the fun of playing outdoors in October 2001, his third season at the University of Michigan, when his team played Michigan State at Spartan Stadium, the home of Michigan State's football team, in East Lansing, Mich. Cammalleri scored twice on Michigan State goalie Ryan Miller -- now with the Buffalo Sabres -- in what ended as a 3-3 tie.

"It was a game where it was almost a surreal experience, really cool," he said. "It kind of had the whole college rivalry, tailgate experience. So it was very, very exciting. Of course I remember the goals. It was a big game for us. And I just remember it being a ton of fun."

He said what stood out to him was the contrast of being on the ice during play and then when anything eventful happened.

"I think that what I really felt was it was quiet on the ice," he said. "Because the ice surface is so much smaller than the football field, the seats were so far removed from the ice, it felt to me like we were playing kind of in a quiet pond hockey game in the middle of nowhere, and you could hear the skates and the voices.

"Then when a roar would come up from the crowd, you would look up and see ... 75,000 people. So it was kind of this cool feeling of playing in front of nobody in the middle of a pond, and then you'd look up and realize there was 75,000 people watching you.

The 2011 NHL Heritage Classic will be played at Calgary's McMahon Stadium. Cammalleri spent just one season with the Flames, 2008-09, but it was the most productive of his NHL career, as he set personal bests with 39 goals, 82 points and 19 power-play goals. In the summer of 2009, he signed as a free agent with the Canadiens.

Besides Cammalleri, Montreal teammates Jaroslav Spacek and James Wisniewski played in NHL Winter Classics in 2008 and 2009, respectively. That could make them pretty popular in the days leading up to the Heritage Classic. However, as different as all the things that go into game -- from the crowd to the weather to sun glare off the ice, there's one thing to remember -- it's still just a hockey game.

"No one's asked me directly, but if anyone wants to know, I'll fill them in," said Cammalleri. "I think guys will just enjoy it and get ready for it. There's nothing to prepare anybody for.

"At the end of the day, I'll give you an old Red Berenson quote from Michigan. He used to always say, at the end of the day, there's still one center-ice line, two blue lines, and two nets, so go play hockey."

That's what Cammalleri is hoping to do Feb. 20.

Contact Adam Kimelman at or follow him on Twitter @NHLAdamK
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