CALGARY - The scene was a little different when Dougie Hamilton first went back to Calgary.
In January, some seven months after he was dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes in trade that headlined the weekend of the 2018 NHL Draft, Hamilton made his return to the city where he racked up 137 points (42g, 95a) across three seasons.
There was no shortage of inquisition, with a handful of cameras focused in on him and microphones picking up his every word about what it was like to be back, why things didn't work out, how he was adjusting with his new team and the like.
Eleven months later, after a Friday afternoon practice at the Saddledome, I cozied up beside Hamilton in his locker stall. The bright lights were gone. No prying media presence. Just Dougie and his thoughts.
The scene was a little different, indeed. In fact, Hamilton is a little different this season, not in that he's changed the way he plays or altered his personality, but rather, he's found a comfortability, an opportunity and a home with the Hurricanes.
"When I came back here, I already had started to feel settled in Carolina. Now, for sure I feel settled in," he said. "Opportunity is probably the biggest thing. I'm definitely more comfortable with everything, having friendships and knowing the system."
His head coach echoes that sentiment.
"It takes time sometimes when you come to a new organization to really be yourself. You know what you're capable of, but you're a little bit on your heels, taking everything in and learning a new system," Rod Brind'Amour said when Calgary was in Raleigh in late October. "Once he grasped it in the second half of the year last year, he took off."
Hamilton's meteoric rise hasn't leveled off, either. He's posted two career-best, six-game point streaks this season. He ranks third on the team in goals (11), assists (19) and points (30), marks that are top among team defensemen, of course. In fact, his 30 points are the second-most by a defenseman in franchise history in the first 32 games of a season.
You've probably heard of the streak Hamilton is riding, too. He's recorded at least one shot on goal in 279 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NHL yet still 81 games away from matching Ray Bourque's record of 360 games.
And, there's this: No defenseman in the NHL - not even John Carlson or Shea Weber - has scored more goals than Hamilton (29) since the start of the 2018-19 season.
"Dougie has been great on the offensive side of the game. That's his game," his defensive partner, Jaccob Slavin, said. "But his defensive side has been really, really good this year."
Hamilton will tell you that he's relishing the opportunity he's been given to play on the Canes' top defensive pair with Slavin, and that commitment is evident in his all-around play. Hamilton is averaging a team-high 23:20 of ice time this season, an increase of nearly four minutes from 2018-19.
"I'm just trying to do my best. It's something I've wanted for a while. I just wanted to get that opportunity, see if I could do it and prove to myself I could do it," he said. "I still want to keep getting better. I'm not satisfied with anything. I want to keep improving all aspects of my game."
After splitting up Slavin and Brett Pesce, the Canes found their workhouse defensive pairing with Slavin and Hamilton. Though, like anything, there was an adjustment period.
"You find out how you need to play together to be successful. Doug and I found that," Slavin said. "Knowing he's jumping into the rush any chance he can, he knows that I'm going to be back there. He trusts me that I'll be covering him when he does jump. There are little things like that you have to get used to. We've definitely found that trust and chemistry."
Aside from Hamilton's elite hockey abilities, which could earn him All-Star honors or even Norris Trophy consideration this season, he's also a unique personality, a fun-loving goofball who revels in everyday joy.
This is, after all, someone who flossed on the ice after being named a star of the game last season. Earlier this season, he blocked an Aleksander Barkov shot with his posterior and then gave a Dikembe Mutombo-esque finger wag in Barkov's direction. Earlier this week, he scoreboard'd an Oilers fan who was jeering him for taking a late-game penalty.
Oh, and speaking of that game, Hamilton also scored a goal from center ice. A quick head fake like he was going to dump the puck in got Mikko Koskinen moving ever so slightly out of his crease, enough so that Hamilton then rifled the puck to the twine.
Video: CAR@EDM: Hamilton beats Koskinen from center ice
"Dougie's got those tricks in his bag," Brind'Amour said after the game. "He said it was going to work once this year, so I guess that was it."
"I didn't think I was going to do it ever," Hamilton admitted. "You can't really expect to score from center. It was just one of those plays, and it was cool to see it go in."
It wasn't the farthest distance from which he had beat a goaltender, though. Hamilton said in grade five school hockey, he scored from his own goal line.
And the opposite net wasn't empty. What was the goaltender doing?
"It was grade 5 school hockey. What do you expect?" Hamilton laughed.
At 26 years of age, Hamilton is playing the best hockey of his career. He's taking advantage of an opportunity. He's having fun. And he's doing it all with the Hurricanes crest on the chest of his sweater.
"It feels like home," he said.