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Roy MacGregor

Grounding the Flyers Add to ...

Someone crunched the numbers and came up with the one statistic that seems impossible:



The Montreal Canadiens - the water bugs, the Smurfs - collectively weigh more than the Big, Bad Philadelphia Flyers.



Mike Cammalleri shakes his head in wonder.



"We got some big craniums," the little Montreal forward suggests.



Possibly - but also some big defencemen - and then, of course, there is Cammalleri's own head, which is filled with such strange and mysterious stuff that perhaps it alone has tipped the scales.



He is sitting with his bare feet playing on skates "No. 7."



They are not size 7, but the seventh pair of skates he has gone through this season alone. Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 are all perfectly good, as well, and sometimes he has this feeling that he should go back and wear one of the earlier pairs. Thanks to his numbering system he will make sure that he doesn't accidentally put on Left Skate 3 with, say, Right Skate 6.



Get it? No? Well, don't worry, we're really just beginning here.



He also has his sticks, and they, too, have their own numbers. Not the number on his jersey, 13, but numbers in the high 70s, even 80s.



He prepares them lovingly and each one has a personality. He gets "feelings" from them and can sometimes tell what is in the stick in a single grasp, sometimes a shift. If a stick "feels" exactly right, sometimes he will use it the entire game, or two games. Sometimes the "feel" changes throughout a single game and he will have to keep switching the sticks, often as many as four times in a game, just to keep the "feeling" going.



Whatever it is, it works. It was, as usual this spring, Cammalleri who began the comeback against the Flyers that saw the Canadiens take Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final 5-1 after losing the first two games 6-0 and 3-0.



His goal was his 13th of the Stanley Cup playoffs, which has people starting to think about what it could possibly mean if his Montreal Canadiens are able, yet again, to mount a seemingly impossible comeback.



Should Montreal somehow reach the final he could conceivably be within reach of the Stanley Cup playoff record of 19 goals, set by Philadelphia's Reggie Leach back in 1976 and matched in 1985 by the Edmonton Oilers' Jari Kurri.



He is also being spoken of, along with Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak, as a possible Conn Smythe Trophy candidate for the most valuable player of the playoffs.



So dominant has Cammalleri's spring been that there is talk in Calgary of how the Flames almost kept him, talk in Ottawa of how the Senators almost got him instead of Alexei Kovalev, talk in Toronto of how the Leafs let the Richmond Hill, Ont., native get away.



But the 27-year-old chose, instead, to sign a five-year, $30-million (U.S.) deal with then Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey. No one but he and his agent know "the 100 per cent truth of those negotiations," he says. He will not tip his hand to where else he was considering.



When he said the other day that he practically felt "sorry" for those players who never get a chance to play in Montreal, he thought maybe it sounded "arrogant" and wants it known that he only meant how "very special it is."



He seems a rare athlete in that he's acutely aware of the good fortune he has had. Perhaps there is a connection to being the child of hard-working Italian immigrants on his father's side and Czech and Polish Holocaust survivors on his mother's.



"Someone who was once here told me that 'When the lights go off, trust me, they go off,'" he says, "so you might as well have them on when you're playing."



He grew up a Leafs fan but left the Toronto area to attend the University of Michigan after "fast-tracking" early through high school. The erudite Cammalleri is an avid reader - anything from military strategies to biographies - and is so driven to talk and analyze the game that he sometimes drives his linemates to distraction, even on the bench.



He can also get to opponents, sticking his tongue out at Philadelphia's Dan Carcillo in Game 3, an act Carcillo calls "embarrassing."



He calls himself a "neat freak" and claims his girlfriend is even "worse than I am - that's one of the things I find most attractive about her."



"He's a perfectionist," says Montreal coach Jacques Martin, "really pays attention to detail, really focuses on getting better all the time."



Drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Kings in 2001, Cammalleri was a bit of a late bloomer, with 82 points a year ago with the Flames and this spring's remarkable run with the Canadiens after an injury-plagued regular season.



They talk a lot about his size, 5 foot 9, and his teammate Brian Gionta, at 5 foot 7, and he doesn't much care for it.



"To me," he says, "size is a relative thing. If you're talking about height, that's one measure. But if Brian Gionta goes into the corner with a guy who's 6 foot 5 and he comes out with the puck, who's bigger?"



Good point.



And one that just might explain the impossibility of Cammalleri's Montreal Canadiens somehow outweighing the Philadelphia Flyers.



No matter how big his head might get this spring.

 

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