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Hamilton unsure of what to expect in Boston return

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

BOSTON, MA -- Dougie Hamilton has done the dance before.

But not on this floor. His old floor.

His old stomping grounds.

And this time, for the first time, Hamilton is coming to the ball as an invited guest.

“You don’t really know what to expect,” said Hamilton, making his return to TD Garden for the very first time as a member of the opposition.

“It’s a little bit tough that way but at the same time, I think it’s going to be cool. It’s experience I’m looking forward to. Just being on the other bench, the away dressing room, it’s all a little bit weird. I guess it should be fun.”

Hamilton spent his first three seasons in the NHL, 178 games, as a member of the Boston Bruins.

He’ll suit up for career game No. 241 on Tuesday as a visitor to Boston, for the very first time.

Nerves? Maybe.

Excitement? Maybe.

Hamilton isn’t tipping his hand.

“I have no clue,” said the 22-year-old Calgary Flames defenceman said. “I guess we’ll see when I get on the ice. Can’t really control that so just enjoy it.

“I’m sure I’ll have a lot of adrenaline and stuff for tonight. Hopefully we can go out as a team, play a good team, and get a win.”

A stunning trade, coming just hours before the 2015 NHL Draft, sent Hamilton from the Bruins to the Flames in exchange for a trio of picks.

Sky-high expectations were leveled equally as quickly as Hamilton struggled to find solid footing in Calgary.

But, after rebounding from a start that saw just one goal and a minus-11 rating through his opening nine games, the slowest statistical start to his four-year career, Hamilton has settled in nicely with the Flames.

But his nerves might not be in his former home.

Cue the coach.

“I’ll sit with him before the game,” Flames coach Bob Hartley said. “I just don’t want to blow it out of proportion. Just give him a few good reminders. At the same time, it’s a game. It’s going to be 5-on-5 on the ice with goalies at each end. It’s going to be the same game. For a few minutes it might be tough to get going, but once the puck is on the ice, you have to play to win.”

It’ll be a new experience for Hamilton.

Sort of.

In early December, he skated opposite his former Bruins teammates once already this season, a showdown in Calgary that attracted plenty of attention.

In the three days leading up, each and every day, the 6-foot-6 blueliner was poked, prodded, and bombarded with questions about seeing his former teammates from a new perspective.

Once more, on game day, he faced the interrogation again.

On the ice, he faced his friends.

And a Hamilton gaff, with 1:06 remaining in regulation, put former teammate Brad Marchand at centre ice, with a penalty shot, to put Boston to a 4-3 lead. Now-departed Jiri Hudler tied the game with 1.2 seconds remaining to force overtime.

Hamilton set up Johnny Gaudreau, the former Boston College standout, for the game-winner in overtime.

The relief in his face after said it all.

“I remember when the Bruins were in Calgary and it was a big deal,” Hartley said. “Now this must be a bigger deal. You have to go through it once. I was in Boston with Ray Bourque. I can tell you that Ray was 39 at that time and it was emotional. It was tough for Ray Bourque. We were watching him almost like he was a 19-year-old rookie. Everyone was supporting him.

“Obviously it’s not as big for Dougie, but it’s big. He’s a young man that cares a lot and I’m sure that there’s lots of unknown about returning to your former team and their building. Once the game is over, he’ll be a better person and player.”

Until then, though, Hamilton doesn’t know quite what to expect.

Or how the rematch in March will compare to the inaugural bout back in December.

“We’ll see,” he said. “That one was maybe a little bit tougher, the first time playing against them and stuff, I think now it’s more just about coming back to the city, the rink, and the fans. I don’t really know what to expect but I’m looking forward to it.”

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