BOSTON -- Boston Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton spent his 20th birthday Monday wearing a suit in the TD Garden press box and watching his team beat the Chicago Blackhawks 2-0 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series.
It's not exactly how he envisioned spending his birthday when he cracked the Bruins' opening day roster five months ago and collected four points in his first five NHL games. Just a few weeks removed from completing a decorated junior-hockey career, it was a coming-out party that made him a Boston sports darling and potentially the next great Bruins defenseman.
The ninth pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, Hamilton finished the regular season with 16 points in 42 games, ranking him third in scoring among rookie defensemen. The Stanley Cup Playoffs, on the other hand, have been a very different story. Hamilton hasn't dressed for the Bruins since Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the New York Rangers.
With the Bruins tied 2-2 with Chicago in the Cup Final, Hamilton has been forced to wait in the wings for his name to be called. But he knows the experience he's gaining as a healthy scratch on this Cup run is as valuable to his hockey development as his trial-by-fire regular season.
"I think it's usually the other way around, where you start slow and get more [ice time]," Hamilton told NHL.com. "It's the opposite for me, which is I guess a little bit different. You kind of feel like you have that opportunity, then it goes away. It's not the best feeling, but I think the whole year has been all about learning stuff. I think it's been good."
Sure, being involved in the Stanley Cup Final is an entirely new experience for Hamilton. But so is being a healthy scratch for close to a month. When the Bruins defensive corps was ravaged by injuries in the opening two rounds of the playoffs, Hamilton earned an opportunity to gain valuable postseason experience. He had three points in seven games, but the return of Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference, coupled with the emergence of rookie defenseman Torey Krug, forced Hamilton back to the press box.
It's an unprecedented experience for Hamilton, who has been a star his entire hockey career. Last season he won the Max Kaminsky award as the Ontario Hockey League's best defenseman, and last month he received the Bruins' Seventh Player Award, given to the Boston player "who went above and beyond the call of duty for the Bruins and exceeded the expectations of fans."
He's gained invaluable experience with a team on the precipice of capturing its second Stanley Cup championship in three seasons. But he admits it's been difficult sitting out the past nine games.
"It kind of feels like you're not part of it. You don't get to go through it with the guys," Hamilton said. "Just for me right now, we're skating with the B team. It's hard work. We just need to make sure we're ready in case we need to play."
Hamilton's place in the press box was due in large part to Boston's long list of veteran defensemen. However, that veteran presence only has furthered his development as a player.
"It's a great lesson for him," said defenseman Andrew Ference, who sits beside Hamilton in the Bruins locker room. "It's tough for guys who don't get to play. They have to stay sharp and be ready on a moment's notice if guys go down. Anybody who's gone through that has a ton of respect for the mental aspect of sitting there watching and skating every single practice. It's really tough, but it's invaluable experience for guys."
Naturally, Hamilton would rather be dressing for the Bruins, but he's mature enough to acknowledge the value of sitting and watching a number of players who already have captured the Cup once and are close to doing it again. And regardless of how the Cup Final plays out, everything he's experienced this season will have made him a better player.
"I thought it was a good season. I'm already looking forward to next year. I think I've seen what I need to improve on," Hamilton said. "I guess the last couple of months have been a little bit different for me. More of a learning experience. You just have to take it as a positive and learn as much as I can and try to move forward and let it happen."
Pretty mature perspective from someone who just turned 20.