- The Washington Times - Friday, October 14, 2011

Saturday night might be “just another game” in the words of Roman Hamrlik. But the Washington Capitals’ game against the Ottawa Senators marked a major milestone for the defenseman.

Hamrlik played his 1,315th career NHL game Saturday night at Verizon Center, breaking the record for most by a player born, raised and trained in the Czech Republic. Bobby Holik (1,314) was the old record-holder.

“I never thought I can make that number,” Hamrlik said. “When you hit a thousand games, it’s just going faster and faster. And obviously I’m jut happy to be here and still have lots of passion for the game and still have some dream. For me, it’s nice to have that number, but I have to focus on my game.”

The 37-year-old Hamrlik is in the twilight years of a long journey that started in Zlin, Czechoslovakia and has now led him to Washington after stops in Tampa Bay, Edmonton, Long Island, Calgary and Montreal.

The Lightning made Hamrlik the first overall pick in the 1992 draft, but that was only the beginning.

“When you grew up back in Czech Republic as a kid, especially in a Communist republic, you don’t really know what’s going on,” he said. “When I come here I was 18 years old, still young, and you just grew up. The last couple years it just hit me how many games, how many years I was here and how lucky I am.”

Technically, Chicago Blackhawks legend Stan Mikita holds the record for most games by a Czech player (1,394), though the Hall of Famer moved to Ontario with his family at a young age and is considered a Canadian in the view of history.

This is an entirely different era than the one Mikita played in, too. Hamrlik’s path to the NHL was paved by Peter and Anton Stastny, who defected from Czechoslovakia — then a part of the Soviet Union — in 1980. The league has seen an influx of Eastern European players since.

Saturday’s benchmark game for Hamrlik is a chance to again appreciate his career, which is now in its 20th season.

“That’s a tremendous accomplishment for him,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He’s the No. 1 guy in games played, it’s a tremendous accomplishment. Hats off to him. He’s a real warrior.”

Leaving the locker room this week while Hamrlik was answering questions about the milestone, Dennis Wideman jokingly asked if his fellow defenseman had any secrets for still playing while being so old. Hamrlik’s durability throughout his career has been impressive — but he doesn’t think it’s anything special.

“Just keep working hard and do what you do best,” he said.

Hamrlik is just starting a two-year, $7 million deal with the Caps. And while he’s getting up there in age, he’s not thinking about hanging his skates up anytime soon.

“I still have two years and we go from there. It’s game-by-game and see how it goes and see what’s going to happen,” Hamrlik said. “After two years I’ll be 39, and see how my body feel and how good of shape I’m in.”

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