SUN Hockey Pool

This Hammer pounds 'em

ROBIN BROWNLEE, EDMONTON SUN

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

CALGARY -- Roman, is that you?

At the start of his NHL career with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Roman Hamrlik's knack for piling up the points was matched only by his proclivity for somehow ending up with a huge deficit in plus-minus rankings.

That's no longer the case for the first overall pick in the 1992 Entry Draft. Hamrlik has found a home beside Dion Phaneuf with the Calgary Flames in a tandem as stingy as you'll find in the NHL.

A cumulative minus-124 in his first six seasons with Tampa - that's not a miss-print - Hamrlik faced the Edmonton Oilers last night a plus-23, while the 21-year-old Phaneuf checked in at plus-14.

Quite a pair, they are.

"He's a very experienced guy," said Phaneuf, who makes a lot more highlight reels than Hamrlik these days.

"Playing together a lot last season really helped us build unity between us. We talk on the ice, we know where each other likes to go and we back each other up."

Hamrlik, 32, who spent three seasons in Oiler silks, went into action last night a plus-31 in parts of two seasons with the Flames.

While his points totals aren't what they were in Tampa Bay, nobody is complaining. In 1995-96, for instance, Hamrlik had 65 points with the Bolts, but somehow managed to finish the season a minus-24. The year after, he was minus-29 despite 40 points.

"I think Roman calms down our defensive play," said Calgary coach Jim Playfair. "I think that, in turn, helps Dion.

"People forget, Dion's a young boy. He's got a lot of upside to him, a lot of power in his game. But, at the end of the day, it's important to have a player who offers some guidance."

Hamrlik can still supply offence -- he faced the Oilers with 16 points -- but there's more to his game.

"He's a very complete player," Phaneuf said of Hamrlik. "He's very responsible in his own end. He still makes a great first pass."


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