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A WILD RIDE

Rob and Connor Hamilton had quite a week in Calgary - one attended the Flames development, the other rode in the Stampede

by BRENDAN PARKER @BParkerTV / CalgaryFlames.com

Two vastly different arenas.

One very memorable week.

It's not often the hockey and rodeo worlds line up perfectly for the Hamilton brothers, but they did last week in a big way.

Rob participated in his first summer development camp as a member of the Flames organization.

Younger brother Connor made his main draw debut in bareback competition at the Calgary Stampede.

"It's kind of a cool thing for me, riding in the Calgary Stampede and then having Rob in the Calgary Flames summer camp at the same time," Connor agreed.

"You realize there probably hasn't been another situation like this ever in Calgary," Rob added. "There aren't a lot of rodeo/hockey split families. Pretty unique, pretty special I think, and it's really cool that we both get to compete for pretty big organizations and prizes in our hometown."

The dream for both boys started out the same growing up in northwest Calgary, both Flames fans, hoping to one day find themselves on NHL ice.

Rob, 25, continues to chase that dream, now entering his second year with the Stockton Heat, after playing in 54 games last season, scoring seven goals and 29 points.

The 23-year-old Connor, ready to take on a new challenge, quit playing hockey back in 2015, after two seasons in the Alberta Junior Hockey League with the Calgary Mustangs.

 

Video: Rob Hamilton and his brother had quite the week

 

"I had just quit playing hockey and was just hanging out around the house, I've always loved rodeo and loved the lifestyle and kind of just started watching some videos, watched a lot of YouTube videos on it, and kind of decided I wanted to give it a try," Connor said.

And just like that, the journey into bareback riding began.

"Went out to Olds College with a few guys, got the low down on the whole thing - they helped me out, got me some gear and just ended up getting on a few horses there," Connor said.

He was a quick study - enjoying immediate success - including a pair of Stampede titles in novice bareback within his first three years in the sport.

"He hasn't had to make a huge transition, he's a super strong athletic, tough kid, he kind of came out of the gates hot and kind of rolled his novice career right into his pro career and he's had success kind of the whole way," Rob said.

Naturally - the differences, though, far outweigh the similarities between hockey and rodeo.

There's the obvious - cowboy boots replace hockey skates.

And a bareback rigging has become tools of the trade.

But there's some less obvious differences.

"You go from having someone telling you where to be all the time, when you need to be there, to if you don't plan out your own schedule, all the rodeos in the right order… whether you got to drive 20 hours in between rodeos if you've got 24 hours to get there. You've got plan it all out accordingly," Connor explained.

"It's kind of a big change in that way and then obviously travelling by yourself or with a few travelling partners then with a full team on the bus."

But the hockey background has helped in some aspects.

"I think the biggest thing I could bring over is all the mental training we did in hockey," Connor said.

"For us, you've got eight seconds to either make it or break it," he said. "And not so much even getting mentally prepared to win as it is when you've got one of the rankest buckin' horses in the world run in under you sometimes it's a little bit nerve-wracking. So being able to control that and playing hockey in front of big crowds and stuff like that, that helped me and gave me a little bit of an advantage coming into it, for sure."

And the results back that up. Connor is currently ranked 18th in the world and earned his first invite into this year's main draw at the Stampede.

"I couldn't believe it," he said. "That was what I set out to do this winter, that was one of my goals was come out of the winter and make a big enough impact to hopefully get an invite to Calgary."

The biggest rodeo there is for a local kid.

"There's nothing like coming to the Calgary Stampede," he explained. "We rode this winter down in Houston in the Houston Texans stadium and you know there's 65,000 people in there watching and its massive - but there's nothing that compares to riding in Calgary and the grandstand there."

While Connor was settling into the chutes in Calgary - Rob was in the middle of his first camp with the Flames, after joining their AHL affiliate last season.

 

 

"I was pretty surprised when Stockton gave me the call, obviously excited, but super nice and exciting to be able to head down to California and play for my hometown organization," Rob said.

"I'm going to sit down with Ray Edwards (Flames, Director of Player Development) and kind of build my program from now through the rest of the summer heading into the fall, but it was really nice to come to camp and I met the Flames coaches and all the staff that I hadn't met before."

"It's an unbelievable opportunity for him; I'm super excited for him," said Connor. "He left the house when he was 16 to go play hockey and then ended up going to school in Vermont and doing that. He's always excelled so much at what he's done, so it's been huge for me to be able to watch that and kind of follow along, different paths, but kind of follow along in his footsteps."

That rodeo connection has also helped build a personal fan base in Stockton.

"I've got a good friend in the bareback riding, Clayton Biglow, he's No. 3 in the world right now, and he lives in Clements, California, just outside of Stockton, ended up introducing him to Rob. They met up, his family never really watched hockey growing up and I think they had 10 or 15 different rodeo people out to the games in Stockton to watch, everyone from NFR rodeo clowns to announcers, to just rodeo family and friends," Connor said.

"They're all saying they're getting season tickets and Hamilton jerseys for this year."

And hopefully, one day, those will be Flames jerseys.

"That's the goal and it's good to see some positive feedback from a lot of hard work I've been putting in and I feel like I'm getting closer yeah, I'm taking steps in the right direction," said Rob. "Learned a lot of things last year, trying to become a better pro, mature as a player, and hopefully in the next couple years, maybe make the transition."

"I've always told him, if you get into an NHL game no matter where it is, I'm getting on a flight to go there, so hopefully he ends up getting in one here some time," Connor said.

While they don't often get a chance to watch each other in person, the two brothers are always supportive as they continue to chase their dreams.

"Whenever I was done in California, he came out and brought a few guys out to the rodeo and then we try to go watch games wherever we can, we caught one in Tucson this year, we're always chatting and it's a pretty cool thing to do for sure," said Connor.

"Any time I have a chance; I pull out the laptop and watch him online as much as I could, so that's pretty cool, too," explained Rob. "It's fun to show the European guys and guys who have never been to a rodeo or never been around that, what it's like for him and kind of how tough and athletic his sport is as well."

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