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THE WARRIOR

Travis Hamonic's rock solid, warrior-like play will be crucial for the Flames in the postseason

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

The long-ago image ranks among the keepsakes from that touchstone night, May 25, 1989.

Inside one of the warren of rabbit-holes passing for visiting dressing quarters at event level of the cathedral-like Montreal Forum, the burly, barrel-chested man wearing the 40s-style crewcut is celebrating with defence pal Rob Ramage, smile as wide as the Saskatchewan prairie horizon he'd been born under.

There are holes where teeth should be, stitches snaking angrily across the bridge of a blackened, bloodied, battered nose.

Pain and fatigue forgotten in the beauty of the moment.

"Ah, Beast," says Travis Hamonic, expression softening at the mention of the late, always-to-be-missed Brad McCrimmon. "Spent some time with him in junior, in Brandon. When I played for his brother Kelly.

"So Beast was around. Awesome, awesome guy. And obviously just a great, great player.

"Someone who left it all out there. Willing to do anything necessary. All heart. The kind you look up to.

 "One of those guys."

The guys every organization in every endeavour with any degree of aspiration simply cannot afford to be without. 

Warriors. Defenders of the realm. Gladiators.

From the busted jaw he suffered opening night while coming to the aid of the party, Hamonic's demonstrated through a season rife with discomfort and ordeal, 30 years on from the keepsake image of the barrel-chested guy sporting the crewcut, that he is one of those manner of indispensable sentries.

"Ah, it wasn't that bad," is his scoffing retort. "It's been a great year. We've got such a great group, whenever we come to the rink everyone's smiling, joking, laughing with each other. 

"And when it's time to work, we work.

"This time of year, more than any other, you've got to play through things."

A quick rub of the chin.

"As good as my face looks now, I can promise you it won't later on.

"At least it better not, not if I'm not doing my job."

That sort of mindset, ladies and gentlemen, is what's referred to as old school, in the richest sense of the term.

"It's about being there for your team, for your teammates,'' says Hamonic, three sleeps from Game One of what he hopes will be an extended spell of dealing with additional discomforts. "

"We've all got the same goal, have had it since we were kids.

"If you've got to take a couple to get there, to where you want to go, well, so be it."

Flames' assistant coach Martin Gelinas, a Cup champion in 1990 and also a finalist in 2001 and, of course, 2004, understands from experience the erosive toll that four rounds of attrition, and hopefully 16 wins, can exact.

"I remember in Vancouver seeing a picture of (Kirk) McLean and Trevor Linden beat up after a playoff game, and they're literally holding each other up, barely hanging on," Gelinas reflects.

"But that's playoff hockey. You've got to empty the tank to a point where you don't think you've got nothing left. Nothing. You're running on fumes but you've got to find more gas, somewhere.

"The first round is a jungle. You get through that and there are three more to go.

"You need those guys that lead by example, that set a tone.

"Hammer can be one of those guys for us."

Guys like Brad McCrimmon.

"Oh, I wouldn't go that far," Hamonic protests, obviously (and understandably) flattered by any such comparison. "Beast's in a class of his own. 

"I think everybody knows that."

 

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Protest away, but what they do have in common is a non-negotiable will to do what's in the best interests of the group.

Hamonic, you know just talking to him, would give most anything to feel the degree of fatigue, experience the litany of aches and agonies, that a four-round run to the gates of the promised land demands.

"Oh, yeah," he says, "in a heartbeat.

"Nothing is guaranteed. Tomorrow isn't guaranteed, if you break things down.

"You've got to make the most of the time you're given, the opportunities put in front of you, and do the best you can.

"You've got to sacrifice everything possible to not have to look back on a run and to say to yourself: 'If only I'd gone down and blocked that one more shot, that was the turning point in the series …'

"We've got a lot of guys in this room who'll do whatever it takes. First guy in line" - he nodded to Mark Giordano's stall, the one directly to his left, "will be that guy right there.

"You spend your whole life waiting for this chance. You don't know how often you'll be around a team this good moving forward or how often you'll even be in the playoffs at all. 

"You hear the old story about the Islanders winning that Cup against Edmonton, the final one of the four in a row, and the Oilers walking by and seeing the Isles all ice-bagged up, beat up, exhausted.

"That's why it's the toughest trophy in sports to win, right?

"I haven't been to that point in the playoffs - yet. But I sure do want to get there.

"That story shows what it really takes, the sacrifice required, whether it's getting in that lane with your arm, your chest, your face.

"Anything, anything, to win the Cup. 

"You see it every year with different guys. You understand that it's not easy. But you can also see in their faces, when they do win, that it was all worth it."

Beast would approve.

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