Now comfortably settled into Montreal since signing with the Canadiens in July 2007, Hamrlik twice called the province of Alberta home. After spending parts of three seasons in Edmonton, Hamrlik later returned to Canada to play for the Flames from 2005 to 2007.
“It’s nice to go back there and face those teams. I don’t think about it much otherwise, but it’s funny how familiar things feel whenever I go back there,” said Hamrlik, who spent over a quarter of his 16-year NHL career in Alberta. “I see faces I haven’t seen in a long time and being in those buildings bring back memories too.”
While they are all business on the ice, Hamrlik and Dion Phaneuf remain good buddies after spending time together as a defensive pairing when the Flames defenseman was just breaking into the league as a rookie in 2005-06.
“I’m still in touch with Dion and it’s always fun to catch up. I hadn’t seen him in a while,” said Hamrlik, who is credited by Phaneuf for having helped mold him into the All-Star blue-liner he is today. “I don’t really know the guys on the Oilers’ side. I haven’t played for them in almost 10 years. Man, does time ever fly.”
That being said, some thing never change. Much is made of the Battle of Alberta and rightfully so. The longstanding rivalry is steeped in tradition and remains arguably the most heated one in the NHL today.
“What really makes that rivalry - and most great rivalries - are the fans. They’re both so passionate and into hating each other,” recalled Hamrlik, who actually enjoyed being on both sides of the rivalry. “I liked it, always did. Those are the types of games that are the most fun play. Where else can you have a playoff atmosphere in the month of October?”
With stops in Edmonton, Calgary and Montreal, Hamrlik is clearly at home in Canada. But, there is one key difference between his adoptive NHL homes and his real backyard in the Czech Republic.
“The winters in Montreal, Edmonton and Calgary are definitely colder than in Prague,” said Hamrlik shaking his head. “That I can guarantee you.”
Manny Almela is writer for canadiens.com