BY J. BRADY MCCOLLOUGH
Daily Sports Writer
Published October 3, 2001
At 5-foot-9, Mike Cammalleri has been labeled a small player. Call him undersized all you want, but here"s a guarantee it goes in one ear and right out the other.
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"As far as I"m concerned I"m not a small player when I get on the ice," Cammalleri said. "I don"t consider myself 5-foot-9. I consider myself bigger than whoever I"m playing against."
In order to be successful at this level and in the future, Cammalleri knows he must forget about size and focus on playing the game he loves.
"There comes a point in your career where you totally dismiss that thought," the junior forward said. "To be successful at this level you cannot think of yourself as a small player any longer. You just play the game. I just work on being a strong player and try to play as big as I can."
Cammalleri"s size has not hindered him in earning the respect of his teammates. Not only is he one of the most talented players in the CCHA, but his teammates are also counting on him for leadership.
"A lot of people look at his size and they hold it against him, but there"s no one stronger out there than this kid," senior forward Craig Murray said. "We"ll look to him for a lot of leadership this year and expect a lot of things from him."
This season, the offense will depend on Cammalleri more than ever. Seven forwards from last year"s team have departed, including sophomore Andy Hilbert, Cammalleri"s right hand man last year. During the early part of the season, the Wolverines will count on Cammalleri for their offensive punch because of their lack of proven experience at the forward position.
"Mike is a proven player," Michigan associate head coach Mel Pearson said. "If you go through our lineup and see who our proven scorers are you won"t find many. He"s the offensive leader of our team. He can change a game by himself, so we need him in the lineup."
"He"s one of our most talented players," Michigan coach Red Berenson said. "He brings that dimension. He can do things with the puck in the offensive zone that most players can"t do. He can either provide offense or create offense."
Cammalleri, who led Michigan last season with 29 goals, thrives on the extra responsibility.
"I don"t think it puts much pressure on me at all," Cammalleri said. "I still enjoy the role as someone who"s expected to produce offensively, and I intend to do that."
Hilbert and Cammalleri combined last season to torment defenses across the nation. This year, with Hilbert wearing the black and gold of the Boston Bruins, Cammalleri will look to form a new dynamic duo with another Wolverine. Who that will be is yet to be determined chemistry doesn"t form overnight.
"A line has to build chemistry," Cammalleri said. "Andy was a great hockey player. I made plays for him, and then he made plays for me. I"m excited to play with new guys and create new chemistry.
"I"ve played with a lot of different guys my entire life, and I"ve always been able to produce."
While Hilbert is lacing up his skates in the NHL this season, Cammalleri drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Kings this past summer will still wear the Maize and Blue on Friday and Saturday nights. Cammalleri never considered leaving school early during the summer.
"I felt like this is where I wanted to be this year," Cammalleri said. "The decision was easy. I just wanted to be back here and be part of this again."
Cammalleri was a first team All-CCHA selection last season, and was named the NCAA West Regional MVP for his phenomenal performances against Mercyhurst and St. Cloud. While these accolades are impressive, Cammalleri still has a major goal that he and his teammates haven"t accomplished in his two years at Michigan winning "the big one."
Michigan was two wins away from winning its 10th national championship last season. With the help of Cammalleri, the Wolverines were playing their best hockey, and after their victory over St. Cloud sent them to the Frozen Four, Cammalleri had the championship in his sights.
"It was like "wow, now we"re going to the final four," Cammalleri said. "Two games and you win the national championship. You just get really excited, and you want to play right there and then. It"s definitely something I"m really excited to get back to this year."
Michigan"s opening game of the Frozen Four against eventual champion Boston College was a disappointment and a shock to say the least. The Wolverines were caught flat-footed and weren"t ready for the initial push of the Eagles.
Cammalleri, recently named one of the team"s three alternate captains, took a lot from the loss to Boston College, and plans to use what he learned with this year"s team.
"They came out in the first period with an attitude that they were not going to lose," Cammalleri said. "They controlled everything in the first period. We were taken back by that. That"s something that we have to be prepared for. We need to be the team that comes out with that attitude win at all costs, wanting it more than the other team. We need to come out as the team with the chip on our shoulder this time around."
Michigan"s 2000-2001 performance was like a roller coaster ride. One night the Wolverines would dominate their opponent, and then the next they"d come out with a total lack of intensity. This inconsistency is another issue that Cammalleri must try and address if the Wolverines plan to contend for the national title.
Can Michigan come out night in and night out with the attitude they lacked in the Boston College game?
"It takes mental toughness, but we preach that here at Michigan," Cammalleri said. "Playing two games a week, you"ve got all week to prepare and there aren"t many excuses for not playing to the best of your ability. It"s something we definitely lacked last year, and we"ll work hard to improve that this season."
With 10 freshmen joining the returning Wolverines this season, Cammalleri"s role will be even more important than in most years.
"They"re very impressionable," Cammalleri said. "I remember when I was a freshman, whatever the upperclassmen say is like The Bible to you. You do everything they say to you. As leaders we have to be very careful with our team talk and just keep everything positive."