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FLAMES EXTRA - HAMONIC'S HELPING HAND

After his father died when he was a young boy, Flames defenceman dedicates himself to assisting children who are living with the same type of loss

by AARON VICKERS @aavickers / calgaryflames.com

Twenty minutes, give or take.

It's the time it takes for Travis Hamonic to transform from Flames defenceman to a shoulder to lean on.

An ear to bend.

With young strangers, in a way, he knows too well.

"I think early on in my career it was harder for me to try to juggle that," Hamonic says.

"I think it was harder for me to juggle my emotions after a game and then have to deal with what I was going through and what I had coming 20 minutes down the line and (the) people I was going to meet. It's a pretty real situation.

"As the years have passed and the more I've done it, I've really been able to … and I say this in the best way possible given how serious I take my career and job on the ice … getting a very real life moment coming down the pipe within 15 minutes.  

"What it's done is … good, bad or indifferent … whatever kind of game I've had, it puts a lot of perspective that there's a lot more to life than the game we play and as much of a job it is and how passionate we are about it, there's a lot more to life.  

"You just try to use that to keep a level head in this whole situation."

Every game, win or lose, Hamonic meets with a kid he can relate to.

Childeren who have lost a parent at a young age.

Just like he did.

Growing up in the small farming community of St. Malo, Man., Hamonic's father died of a heart attack.

He was 44. Travis was just 10.

"It's a lot," Hamonic tells Flames TV.

"I get emotional talking about it right now. It's not an easy thing that I've had to go through, but I'm grateful that I've had the opportunity to go through it with my family. I'd be nowhere without them, especially my mom and my wife and the support they gave me and instilled in me at a young age afterwards. 

"It's been really a tough go.

"Obviously you lose someone that's important to you as your father, your entire life, and as hard as it was losing my dad, at this point in my life - now being married and having my own life - the aspect of not having him around to get to know him as a friend and as a person, that's something I struggle with a lot at this point. I'm grateful in my faith and in God, and something that's gotten me through my entire life is I know I have a chance to not only have him watch down on me now, but see him again. That's something I'm grateful that my parents instilled in me at a young age is my faith.

"That's certainly the biggest thing."

His experiences have inspired his post-game meetings.

His D-Partner Program.

Hamonic, with wife Stephanie, host children at every home game. Following the tilt, he meets with them, offers dressing room tours.

And, most importantly, an avenue to talk.

The initiative, started in 2012 when he was a member of the New York Islanders, has continued here in Calgary following the off-season trade that brought him to the Flames.

The program has extended an invitation to over 200 children to date.  

"It's something that obviously I hold really dear to my heart, me and my family, and the story we have and the story that millions of kids have, truthfully," Hamonic says. "I just happen to be on a platform where I can try to do some good.

"We started it about seven years ago in New York. I came to the Islanders with this idea that I wanted to give back and be able to help out in a big way. It just seemed fitting, unfortunately, given my history and what my family and I have had to go through. The Islanders were great at the time, and we got the program off and running.

"It certainly grew. It's unfortunate to say that it grew because it grew for the wrong reasons, which means kids are losing parents."

He's helped hundreds for all the right reasons.

Hundreds, it turns out, have helped Hamonic in turn, too.

"Maybe it's a selfish thing to say that I get a lot out of these meetings, but I see myself in a lot of these young kids," he says. "There's been hundreds throughout the years, and each one brings a little something else out of me, and I learn so much from them. I think I'm having a tough day, and I look and see these young kids and what they're going through and how hard it is for them.

"I put myself in that situation because I get brought back to all those years and I have an opportunity to learn all over again at 27-years-old how to deal with it. It seems every night, no matter what night I have … team wins, team loses … those are all things that matter so much to me but at the end of the day. I jump in my truck and I've just had an hour-long meeting with complete strangers that have opened their heart up to me and it's such a humbling experience and you realize that there's so much more to life than what we do for a living.

"As grateful and proud as I am to be a hockey player, I'm even more grateful to try to be a good person. I think no matter what you do … lawyer, teacher … doesn't matter.

"You have an opportunity and a duty to be a good person."

As quietly as he's gone about that, it hasn't gone unnoticed.

It's not the end goal, but Hamonic's efforts have been rewarded.

His helping has been impossible to ignore.

Hamonic was named the recipient of the 2016-17 NHL Foundation Player Award presented annually to the player 'who applies the core values of hockey - commitment, perseverance and teamwork - to enrich the lives of people in his community.'

"Anytime a guy, a young guy, steps up and does work like he has … he's pretty quiet about it," Flames captain Mark Giordano says.

"He does it for the right reasons. You can see that right away. It's something that is obviously close to home for him. We have a lot of guys in our room who have a lot of charities that are close to the heart, and it's a great group when it comes to that.

"We play a game. There's a lot of pressure in our sport for wins and losses and all that, but that's real life when you get to meet kids after the games. It just takes you away. Sometimes for a player, it takes you away from the whole ins and outs of the game and the pressure.

"And all that and makes you focus on reality, real life."

Like Oct. 27, for example.

The night ended with a frustrating 2-1 loss against the Dallas Stars, Calgary's fourth in five games at home to start the season.

But there was no time to fixate on that.

Because 20 minutes after filing back into the Flames dressing room, Hamonic was slated to meet two young teenage boys.

Boys he shares an unfortunate bond with.  

"I won't pull any punches," Hamonic says. 

"It's really gratifying when you see the smile on these kids' faces and you know how excited they are to meet some of the guys and get in the room and see everything behind the scenes. (There is) the whole emotional and personal attachment that we have and talk about when we get to sit down and discuss (things), but there's the whole other aspect of them being in the Flames dressing room. A lot of these kids are huge fans.

"There's two aspects of it. When you get to see the excitement and the smiles and happiness and for them to be around some of the guys and see these things, it's a gratifying feeling. But it's also hard to see and deal with some of the emotions that come after. It's not something I take lightly by any means. You deal with every situation differently, every kid and every family has been different for me with the hundreds I've done.  

"You just try to help in any facet that you can." 

Help he has.

Help he, unfortunately, has to give.

"It's kind of a double-edged sword," Hamonic says.

"It's nice we're having people at every game and there's a lineup and things like that, but it's unfortunate because people are still dying. It's kind of like an uphill battle. You're fighting all the time and you're never going to get in front of it. More people coming is great, but people are dying in the middle of it as well.

"I wish I wasn't meeting these kids because that means my life would've been a little bit different, and I wish these kids weren't meeting me because it means their life would've been a little bit different. It's kind of like you have two really crappy ends of the stick meeting together.

"With that, I feel that we can help each other out.

"There's not much you can do but try to help out in any aspect that you can."

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