He had never been on an NHL roster, never suited up in the spoked-B, never sat elbow-to-elbow in a stall next to an NHL veteran defenseman and Stanley Cup Captain that had been in the league since he was four years old. He had never walked out through the tunnel to the roar of 17,565 fans chanting, holding their breaths as they have countless times before in earnest of their revered hometown team hitting the ice. And he had certainly never heard the Boston faithful chanting "Doug-ie, Doug-ie" from the rafters.
A lot can change in two weeks.
On Friday night, in the Bruins' 4-2 win over the New York Islanders, Hamilton earned the first multi-point game of his short-lived, four-game NHL career, and the game's First Star.
And sitting in his locker room stall, with Dennis Seidenberg's nameplate to his right, along with Andrew Ference's and Zdeno Chara's stalls to his left, the affable rookie found himself surrounded by TV cameras and nearly 30 media members sardined around him, catching his every word.
Much had been conjured about the expectations set forth for the new Bruin wearing No. 27, and whether he would cement his ninth overall status after being drafted by the B's in 2011. But any surprise in his recent play at the NHL level does not come from within.
"I think you guys are more surprised than I am," Dougie told the media scrum planted around him. "I think for me, I didn’t have expectations, I just wanted to come in and do my best. I have gotten a lot of opportunities, and I’m playing with a lot of great players. It makes it a lot easier on me."
The "offensive-minded defenseman" looks more poised every game he plays. Sure, he may make mistakes, but only to serve the purpose of not letting them happen again.
"I think I am learning new things every day and trying to adjust," said Hamilton. " I think I have gotten a lot of good coaching and help from my teammates. I’m just trying to get better."
On the game's first goal against the Islanders, it was Hamilton's quick two-feet outlet pass to Dan Paille, who had already taken a few quick first steps to get his wheels turning, that led to the rush. And it was low, hard shot from the right point to the front of the net that set up the rebound by Shawn Thornton.
"Looking at him now, it’s pretty amazing that he got passed up eight times to go ninth overall in the 2011 draft," said Milan Lucic. "We’re real fortunate to have him. He’s got a lot of skill, he’s got a lot of poise, he plays with a lot of confidence."
"He’s doing a good job getting up ice and creating chances, also getting pucks to the net. You see on that first goal with [Shawn Thornton], if he doesn’t get the puck to the net, it doesn’t create that rebound."
"You look at his ability to make that first pass, whether it’s in the defensive zone or the neutral zone, and in the offensive zone. It's great to see" Lucic added. "He’s definitely brought a lot of that back to our defense core, which is already a great defense core."
For being just 19 years old, Hamilton's poise is something that has been a topic of - surprise, at first, maybe - but now a strong piece of the Black & Gold's back end.
"There are a couple of things that’s happened to help him along the way here," said B's bench boss Claude Julien, following the 4-2 win over the Isles. "He’s been playing since September with his junior team [Niagara IceDogs], he’s gone to the World Juniors, so he’s played in high-caliber tournaments. So, he’s got that experience and he’s come in here with a good jump, and now he's playing with a lot of confidence."
"I think that’s why our [front office] guys drafted him, because they saw a lot of things we’re seeing right now. We liked his size, we liked the way he moved on the ice, but at the same time, we thought he had real good hockey sense."
One member of the front office who has been knee-deep in Dougie's development is Assistant General Manager Don Sweeney.
"I always use the analogy of quarterbacks in the NFL," Sweeney said following the B's training camp scrimmage - Hamilton's first time in front of a full house at TD Garden. "He kind of gets some confidence, some swagger. He looks past the first option that coach gave him and looks to see what’s out there and you realize that first option is gone and you make a mistake."
“That’s certainly what he’ll probably experience, but he’s a conscientious, driven young man and he’ll be just fine.”
Past the midway point of the third period of Friday's game, with the Bruins maintaining a one-goal edge over New York, it was that developing vision that settled for the clean first option to hit Brad Marchand with a beautiful cross-ice breakout pass as he was streaking down the left wing. No. 63, of course, then fed Patrice Bergeron down the middle and the alternate captain put on a stickhandling clinic to seal the 4-2 win.
"He sees the ice well, he finds the passing lanes and you saw on that goal, breakout out of our own end. You see the guy [Patrice] scoring, but it all starts from our end, and that was from his pass to Marchand and to Bergy for the breakaway."
"I mean it’s amazing that he’s 19 years old," Bergeron remarked after the game. "It’s just a number for him on the ice. He can’t tell at all and his poise is - he’s unbelievable and it’s great to have him on our side."
Two assists on the night, and Hamilton nearly got his first goal in the big leagues (something he did for the Niagara IceDogs 40 times over his three a half seasons getting primed in the OHL) - right after the Garden sellout started chanting "Doug-ie."
"I am just trying to not fumble the puck when going back there for it. It would have been better if I had scored on that play instead of hitting him in the head," Hamilton smiled to the press, on his chance right after the chant hitting the head of Rick DiPietro instead of the back of the net. "It's obviously nice to have that support from the fans. It is pretty cool."
Nearly a goal, but Hamilton will settle for the three assists that have kick-started his first four games with the Bruins - something that all indicators point to him continuing throughout the season. But first, the B's brass will have to officially make the decision - per NHL ruling - whether he stays with the big club or returns to juniors following his fifth game.
The Bruins and Coach Julien certainly want the youngster around, who he called "not good - outstanding" after his first NHL assist against the Rangers on the power play.
"I don’t know what more to say about this guy but I think his teammates are seeing the Dougie Hamilton that everybody’s projecting."
And Hamilton's new teammates have taken the time to integrate the newcomer into the B's tight-knit 2011 Stanley Cup core - so far as Chara even making a vocal point to media to not label him as a "rookie." But that the Bruins treat him as a member of the team and nothing less.
"I think even the guys that are older here, I think I fit in with a lot of them," said Hamilton. "Everyone has been so nice to me so far it makes it easy to come to the rink. It is a lot of fun every day."
"I guess after the fifth game it is [the Bruins] decision. I am trying not to think about it really - I am just trying to play my best and enjoy myself."
It's been an enjoyable two weeks, Dougie - and an enjoyable ride is on its way.