by Ian Cunningham
Roman Hamrlik of the Washington Capitals recently played in his 1,315th game in the NHL, making him the leader in games played by an Eastern European born player. The Czech defenseman started his career with the expansion 1992-93 Tampa Bay Lightning. Hamrlik remembers the challenges of making the transition to the North American game.
“Everything was brand new” Hamrlik said about the new club in its maiden season. "I showed up from the Czech Republic, I didn't speak English, and it was the most difficult time for me.
"I had a tough coach on me in Terry Crisp, and at one point when they told me that I was being sent down to the farm team, I was really upset with the decision and started speaking to my family about going back home."
It was at that point that Lightning GM and Bruins legend Phil Esposito assured Hamrlik that staying in North America would be the best thing for his hockey career. Almost two decades since, Hamrlik is still a vital cog in a solid Capitals team, logging 20 minutes of ice-time in a 2-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday. The effort allowed Hamrlik to surpass fellow Czech Bobby Holik as the senior statesman of eastern European NHLers.
Hamrlik was taken 1st overall by the Bolts in the 1992 Entry Draft, and has gone on to play more games than any member of his draft class. He was only the 2nd European player to be drafterd 1st overall (the first being Mats Sundin the year prior). Hamrlik’s best season in a Lightning uniform was in 1995-96 when he netted 16 goals and 65 points en route to Tampa Bay’s first post-season appearance in franchise history.
“The Hammer” later made stops in Edmonton, Long Island, Calgary, and Montreal, before signing with Washington last summer. Hamrlik was a stud on the Bolts blueline and part of the foundation of this franchise. Congratulations Roman and all the best in the future.
by Ian Cunningham