It’s funny, Roman Hamrlik said, the way things work out sometimes.
Two decades ago, The Tampa Bay Lightning expansion franchise selected Hamrlik with the first overall pick of the 1992 NHL Entry Draft.
Tonight, as the Bolts kick off their 20th Anniversary Season celebration, Hamrlik will suit up as a member of the Washington Capitals, facing the very club that brought him into the NHL over 20 years ago.
“It’s really crazy,” Hamrlik said. “I have so many memories from here. It’s where I started, and I had the opportunity to play with some great players. It’s a new season now and I’m with a different team now, but it’s incredible. I’ll never forget this place.”
Throughout his six-year career in Tampa Bay, Hamrlik appeared in 377 games in a Lightning sweater, recording 52 goals and 185 points while serving as the new kid on the block among a team otherwise filled with NHL veterans.
And although he hasn’t donned the Bolts jersey since the 1997-98 season, he still appears on the franchise-list for all-time goals, assists and points recorded by a defenseman, coming in third in each of those categories. His 49 assists, too, during the 1995-96 season are still the most in Lightning history by any player at his position.
“He was young kid who really evolved into a real good two-way player,” former Lightning forward and teammate Brian Bradley said. “I’ve got to give him credit. He’s played in this league a long time and has been successful, so I think that’s a testament to how hard he worked and how good of a player he’s become.”
Hamrlik, though, also had a lighter side about him.
It was during the team’s inaugural season, when Hamrlik went missing one day from a pre-game team meeting held at Expo Hall at the Florida State Fairgrounds, the first home of the Lightning.
The head coach at the time, Terry Crisp, remembers franticly asking other players and team personnel about the defenseman’s whereabouts.
When one player responded that Hamrlik was outside fishing, Crisp took a look for himself.
Indeed, under a set of palm trees adjacent to the back door of the arena, there was Hamrlik, serenely fishing off a dock that led out to a pond that may or may not have contained fish in it.
“They were really all a bunch of characters at heart,” said team founder Phil Esposito, who served as general manager of the club from the inaugural season in 1992-93. “Good hockey players, but man, a fun group of guys outside of the rink.”
After leaving the Bolts, Hamrlik went on to continue a successful NHL career with the Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders, Calgary Flames, Montreal Canadiens, and yes, the division-rival Capitals.
Now at 37-years-old, Hamrlik remains the only member of the original Lightning team still active in the NHL.
His career, through several NHL cities, arenas and a number of different jerseys, has brought him a lot of success.
But he’ll never forget the team that, for him, was the one that started it all.
“I really am thankful to Phil Esposito and to the fans here in Tampa Bay,” Hamrlik added. “This team gave me a chance and this is where I had my start, so while I’m going to focus on my game and our team tonight, I also want to enjoy the celebration and am looking forward to being a part of it.”
With a sold-out crowd expected tonight at the Times Forum, Hamrlik likely won’t be the only one.
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