All these years later, Petr Nedved still has an affinity for the Stampede City.
He still remembers the way so many Calgarians protected him, took them in as one of their own for five months, after he made the bold decision to defect from Czechoslovakia in 1989 after starring in the Mac's Midget Tournament. It's hard not to have a special place in your heart for a place that gave him so much love.
"I felt that from the city, it was on my side," recalls the Edmonton Oilers centre. "There was the big question if they'd send me back home and it wouldn't have been pretty if they sent me back."
There still is a bond with Calgary for Nedved, who at age 17 made the courageous decision to leave his compatriots and family with his goal to make the NHL. Of course he realizes that love will fizzle if he becomes a key cog for the Oilers, a team that claimed him off the waiver wire earlier this month, and does damage to the Flames' playoff hopes in the process.
"Looking back, I think, 'Wow, what a decision,' " he said. "The older you get, you don't overthink things but when you're younger you make a lot more gutsy decisions. That by far was the biggest decision I made. I've never regretted it and never looked back. Maybe it was the key for me to be successful."
Calgary isn't the only Alberta city that is welcoming to Nedved. The 35-year-old is in his second tour of duty with the Oilers -- the first being a 16-game stretch during which he netted five goals and 10 assists at the end of the 2003-04 season before leaving to sign with Phoenix.
In hindsight, it wasn't the best move, though it was made in big part so his then wife, model Veronica Varekova, could be closer to her work. His time in Phoenix lasted half a season before a trade to Philadelphia, where the club did its best to make him a checking centre.
Unable to handle that role and struggling to a minus-20 rating in 21 games, Nedved was twice sent down to the minors and recalled, with the hopes a team would take him at what would be a reduced salary.
The Oilers claimed him and now Nedved feels completely rejuvenated after many days wondering where his career was heading.
"It's hard to imagine, maybe there's one or two other teams but this is the perfect fit for me," said the forward. "It just wasn't the right fit for me in Philadelphia but it was one of those things. It was tough for a while but sometimes you have to work through something like that, a little adversity. I came back to Edmonton and feel pretty good about myself."