For Travis Hamonic
, sitting out last season’s playoffs may have been the most unsatisfying way to end a season.
To put in all that work and all that training; the daily skates, morning workouts and late-night flights, just to sit around and watch when it starts to really count. It’s a helpless feeling sitting on the sidelines. Even worse, it’s a tease.
Only winning the Stanley Cup will be the satisfying ending Hamonic and the Islanders want, but he’s appreciative just to be playing in the postseason again.
“Playoffs are always something bigger than yourself and you just want to be part of the team,” Hamonic said. “Last year it sucked not being able to play. This year it’s been fun. Especially the first home game, the crowd was unreal. It was a pretty neat atmosphere and just fun to be a part of.”
Hamonic was in danger of missing the playoffs again this season, suffering a lower-body injury against the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 31. He sat out the rest of the regular season, but worked his way back to start in Game 1.
He’s happy to be back and the Islanders are happy to have him back, as he’s been tasked with shutting down the Florida Panthers’ top line of Jaromir Jagr, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. Through the first three games, the line was held to a combined four points (1G, 3A). In Game 4, Hamonic – and defense partner Nick Leddy – started the game against Reilly Smith’s line. Smith, who had eight points (4G, 4A) in the first three games, was held off the scoresheet in Game 4.
“His physicality, ability to play and shut down some of the top guys,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said of Hamonic’s assets. “He’s got great size, great mobility and when you have a defenseman who has those qualities about him, it takes away time and space from the opposition.”
“They have two good lines and we have choices to make,” the coach added. “Having him there gives us options of what we want to do and how we want to match.”
Jagr has the respect of the entire league for not only being the NHL’s third-highest career scorer (1868 points), but for being able to still play the game a high level at 44. There’s a lot of respect coming from the Islanders, but Hamonic doesn’t shy away from playing him hard between the whistles, or making him uncomfortable when the after-the-whistle extracurriculars start, though he did return his helmet to the bench after knocking it off. The same goes for the rest of the Panthers.
“During a playoff series you are going to see each other maybe seven times, you try to do things early on in the series and you see if it can pay off by the end,” Hamonic said. “For me personally, it’s just kind of my style of play. If I have to play against some of those guys, hopefully use it to my advantage and hopefully knock them off their game a little bit. They are good players so you have to use everything you can to your advantage.”
Hamonic is one third of a highly-effective trio for the Islanders, along with Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk. Their collective strength is they each bring something a little different.
Boychuk brings the 100 mph slap shot and devastating-hit potential, Leddy is one of the smoothest skaters in the league and quarterbacks the top power-play unit, while Hamonic embraces his shutdown role and plays with a physical edge.
“It’s a good combination and we work well together,” said Boychuk. “[Hamonic’s] just playing hard and we need him to play hard against top guys like Nick, me, Thomas [Hickey] and everybody has to play hard. He’s doing a good job and he has to continue to do that. We need that to win.”
Capuano likes the edge that Hamonic plays with and for the coach who preaches battle level, there’s no need to remind Hamonic to bring it.
“Some guys play a contain game on the back end that aren’t assertive enough,” Capuano said. “Travis is one of those guys that not only is he up in the play offensively, but he loves the role of shutting down the top lines and top players.”
After a scare at the end of the regular season, Hamonic is just relishing the chance to be out there mixing it up, contributing and being a part of something that’s bigger than him.