It’s rare that you make an investment and get an immediate return in any walk of life. The same is usually true in the NHL when teams sign players as free agents; a franchise will shell out millions of dollars to bring in what they hope will be the right fitting puzzle pieces. There are exceptions to the rule though, and this season Mike Cammalleri has provided exactly what the New Jersey Devils wanted when they signed him on the first day of free agency in the summer. Despite missing six games with an upper body injury Cammalleri has a team-high six goals in ten games (6g-4a), including two power play goals and two game-winning goals.
Throughout his 12-year career in Los Angeles, Calgary, Montreal and Calgary again, his name has been linked in trade rumors to the Devils. Finally this summer New Jersey was able to get their man and they didn’t have to give anything up to get him (other than $25 million dollars over the next five seasons that is). The 32-year-old is a goal scorer, one the Devils desperately needed since the departure of Zach Parise, and in watching him play closely this season, he plays a similar style. Recently The Hockey Writers caught up with Mike Cammalleri and we talked about why he wanted to be in New Jersey and why Mattias Norstrom & Jarome Iginla were such important people to his career.
The Hockey Writers: You ended up having the GWG in tonight’s game against the Minnesota Wild, but you could have had a few more goals right?
Mike Cammalleri: Yeah, definitely at least one more for sure (shot hit the crossbar). On my goal it was a really good play by Travis (Zajac); (Jaromir) Jagr forced the turnover, Trav makes a nice play to me and the puck just hit the inside of the post.
THW: Have you reached that level of comfort yet on that line with Jagr and Zajac? It’s only been two months since camp started, but you’ve been a trio since day one (except for your injury time).
MC: We’re on that path; we’re starting to appreciate (and understand) each other’s game a little bit more — and how to play to each other’s strengths. It’s never easy. There’s another NHL team out there with a lot of really good players you are playing against. But it’s a long season; we’re getting there.
The early signs of chemistry with new linemates as Mike Cammalleri scores in a September scrimmage:
THW: We’ve heard you wanted to come here when you became a free agent, any one reason that sticks out to you as why that was the case?
MC: I just felt the formula that they have had here for such a long time; I think last season in particular was an anomaly. This year we haven’t definitely been ourselves here to start. If you look at the past (here), the fewest shots against kind of thing, fewest goals against — I think that’s a good formula for trying to win a championship and you build from there. That is one of the things that I appreciate about the way that the Devils do things. It hasn’t been exactly how we would like it so far this year, but we’re working towards that, and I’m confident in this team.
THW: You played your college hockey at Michigan University; I know it was a while ago…
MC: It wasn’t that long ago! (smiles) yeah, it was a while ago…
THW: It was like 13 years ago man, I’m old too. But what did you take away from that experience?
MC: I can’t say enough about my time at Michigan (1999-2002), the bond that I still have there. A lot of my closest friends, my classmates and teammates there; it holds a special place in my heart. It was such a great experience for me.
THW: What can you say about the other places that you’ve played in the NHL?
MC: I’ve had the good fortune of living a dream come true playing in this league, and I can’t say enough (good things) about the places I’ve played and the experiences I’ve had. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from the people, in the places I’ve been — good and bad. Things that I have my own personal opinion on that I appreciate or don’t. You take things with you, and as you get older you learn; I look back at all of those as just unbelievable experiences. In LA I was young, but the last two — especially Montreal and Calgary — I’ve taken a lot from.
THW: Was there a player that showed you the NHL way when you broke into the league?
MC: One of the guys that I respect the most that I’ve ever played with was Mattias Norstrom; I played with him in LA and he was my first captain when I came into the league. He’s just as good of a human being that you’ll ever meet and I admired him for a lot of reasons. And I still do. He was definitely the first one and many after that.
THW: Is he a guy that you still keep in contact with?
MC: Yeah, it’s harder now; he’s back in Sweden now, raising his family there but once in a while we’ll speak and it’s always really nice.
Mike Cammalleri caps off a hat trick in overtime to beat the New York Rangers:
THW: Do you remember that first NHL goal?
MC: I do (smiles wide). In Edmonton; (on) Hockey Night in Canada. Against Tommy Salo.
THW: Before the season there was talk that all this team had to do was get in the playoffs and there was confidence you could match up with anyone in a seven-game series…
MC: I don’t think we’re there yet. I don’t think we’ve earned that confidence in ourselves yet; to be able to feel that way. Maybe in preseason, but we haven’t played to that level yet where we will feel…I don’t think we can feel that way yet. But the goal is that come April we are in position to do that and then we feel that way about our team.
THW: You were teammates with Jarome Iginla for a long time in Calgary; what was that like and what was it like after he left?
MC: Jarome is one of my closest friends; he’s probably one of the guys I’ve learned the most from in my career, if not the most. He just has this tremendous passion for the game and commitment to the game. He was special; to play with him, alongside him, watch him do things the way he does them — at a high level. Like I said, he’s a close friend; you root for him. I know they’ve had a tough start there in Colorado, but he’ll figure it out and get on his way.
THW: Is it going to be a little strange playing against him this weekend when the Avs come to New Jersey?
MC: I played against him last year with Boston for the first time, but nah. It’ll bring out the best in both of us (smiles), makes you grind a little harder. You want to show him your best.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.