There at the beginning, ex-Lightning D Roman Hamrlik excited to be on ice for 20th anniversary celebration
As the lone active player remaining from the Lightning’s inaugural team, veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik has a lot of great memories from the franchise’s humble beginnings.
For Hamrlik, 38, that included fishing with teammates behind the old Expo Hall arena at the Florida State Fairgrounds, where they played home games the first season.
“We had a lot of fun with that,” he said, smiling.
It seems fitting that Hamrlik – the team’s first draft pick – will be on the ice tonight (albeit in a Capitals uniform) for the opener of Tampa Bay’s 20th season.
“It’s crazy I’m still here,” Hamrlik said after today's morning skate. “It’s gone by pretty fast. I had such good memories when I started here with special players like Brian Bradley and Pat Jablonski…and many other players. I’ll never forget this place.”
Hamrlik, the No. 1 overall pick in 1992, played five-and-a-half seasons in Tampa Bay, and was known as a physical, two-way defenseman. A good skater, Hamrlik also had a big shot, helping as he quarterbacked the power play.
“I’ve been thrilled to get a chance to start playing my career, and I’m happy I was a part of that when they started playing,” he said.
Hamrlik, traded to the Oilers in Dec. 1997, went on to play for the Islanders, Flames and Canadiens before joining the Capitals in 2011. He’s played in 1,379 games, most for a Czech-born player, and missed nearly 200 more due to three NHL lockouts he’s gone through.
To stay in the league, Hamrlik had to stay healthy, and evolve his game.
“When you get older, you train harder every summer,” Hamrlik said. “I work as hard as I can every summer and be prepared for the season. And you play a little bit smarter, you don’t run around, crush the guys. You try to play with your experience, stick on the ice, learn like Nicklas Lidstrom. I always look up to some of the older guys, how they play and try to learn form them so hopefully I can still bring something to the team.”
Hamrlik, in the final year of a two-year deal in Washington, said he still has passion for the game, and is driven by the goal to win his first Stanley Cup. But Hamrlik admitted he never envisioned being here, more than two decades removed from his debut, for the Lightning’s commemorative celebration.
“It’s going to be a special night for me, a special night for the fans, for the Tampa Bay Lightning, for the organization,” Hamrlik said. “I’m really lucky to still play hockey right now at this level, and I’m going to try to enjoy everyday of it.”
-- JOE SMITH