When Dan Hamhuis signed with the Canucks in the summer of 2010, his childhood dreams became reality as he returned to play for his hometown team.
Still as humble as ever, he remembers the route from his small town of Smithers to the shiny lights of the NHL and hasn't forgotten what it took to get to today.
And as he shows in his stories as a kid playing hockey, it's the little things that stay with you forever, no matter how much time has passed. One thing that he makes very clear: hockey isn't worth it if it isn't fun and he never forgets that.
Hamhuis shares his tales from his journey to the NHL.
How old were you when you got your first pair of skates?
I started skating when I was three so probably then. I don’t have them anymore because they were broken so we went to get them fixed and then they got lost.
When I started skating, I remember I was behind a lot of the kids my age the first few years. I think the late birthday put me at a disadvantage but I started to catch up in the fourth or fifth year.
The first time I was able to take a slap shot and get it off the ice – that was a pretty big deal. I was so happy about that day when I beat a goalie by raising the puck with a slap shot.
What was your first hockey team?
I started hockey when I was four with the Elks of the Elks Club that sponsors them. We just had small tournaments around but I don’t really remember much about it. I know we had a purple jersey – that’s about it.
How did you get into hockey?
My dad put me in when I was three or four years old. He had always played so it was probably something he wanted me to do and I loved it right from the start. I spent a lot of time playing street hockey too.
My dad never played professionally but he played in the senior leagues for quite a while. He was a left-winger but whenever I was on the ice, defence was always a position that I naturally gravitated to. No, I never played forward, I was always D.
What was hockey like in your hometown?
It was fun, we didn’t have a lot of ice time ever, we were only on the ice a couple times a week. It wasn’t very political, it was a single A organization and that’s all it was. It was a lot of fun and it was more focused on that than trying to get ahead and get ice time like you might see in bigger cities. It was just a fun experience playing in that environment.
Hockey was a big part of Smithers, a lot of people played. There’s a lot rec leagues, a women’s league, girl’s minor hockey league - there’s a lot. It’s a huge part of the community along with the other outdoor activities but Smithers is just 6000 people and the hockey rink was certainly the social centre in the winter.
What role has your family had in your career?
They’re very supportive. They took me on almost every road trip and my mom was taking me to five am practices or opening the rink an hour early at four just for me to skate. I’m real lucky to have them.
My dad coached me the first five or six years and still does to this day, not from behind the bench anymore but from a distance and on the phone. He’ll tell me to play tougher, start skating more, play with more of an edge – stuff like that when I’m not. He knows my game and so he’ll be able to point things out.
What is your favourite childhood memory?
Probably winning the Bantam A Provincials in Sicamous. It’s the fourth year we’d gone to provincials but we were getting better and better each year. The previous year, we’d lost in the finals and then, we won it in overtime in my last year. So that was a real highlight.
Who was your hockey hero growing up?
My dad was one but as far as the NHL, I never really had one specific player.
Trevor Linden growing up was certainly one of them. The first time I met him, I was young, probably 15 or 16 years old doing some summer training with him. He was such a nice guy, just took some time to speak with me and just his interest in me as a person was what I took away from it most.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
What advice would you give to someone aspiring to get to the NHL?
I think something especially at the professional level, there are days when it can seem like a lot of work and a tough job but you play better when you love the game and want to be out there as opposed to playing frustrated or playing upset. Enjoying the game is a way better motivator so always remember to have fun.
What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome to get to where you are?
I’d say injuries is a big obstacle but when it comes down to it is making yourself as ready as you can be for when your opportunity’s there.
I never really believed that I was going to make it to the NHL until I was 17 or 18 and I thought I might have a chance but from then, never doubted that I was going to play hockey.
Do you ever still get the feeling like this is unbelievable that you've made it here?
Yes, considering where I grew up in this little single A organization coming out of Smithers to make it to the NHL, I was pretty surprised when I look around. But then I look back at some of the people that I’ve had along the way in my career, the coaches, and my parents, it was certainly a huge help to me.
It’s a lot of fun, I love the NHL life. It’s fun coming to the rink everyday to see the guys. We’ve got a really good group of guys in this room and that’s a huge part of it because we spend so much time together, playing on a good team, and of course, it’s fun winning.