from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on emergency basis. It was anticipated that Hamonic would be with the big club for about a week before being returned to the AHL. The then 20-year-old promised himself that he wasn’t going to let this small window of opportunity escape his grasp.
Last Nov. 23, after 19 AHL games, the Islanders recalled
“You work to play in the NHL, but you work even harder to stay in the NHL,” Hamonic said. “I knew I was going to get my opportunity one way or another. When I got it, I really wanted to make sure that if I was going to be sent back down, it wasn’t going to be for my play. It was going to be a numbers thing.”
Hamonic adjusted quickly to the elevated level of play and fit right in with the rest of the pack. Before long, he was placed in a shut-down role and was playing more than 21 minutes each night on the Islanders top defensive pairing alongside Andrew MacDonald
“You want to be able to help the team in any way that you can and you want that responsibility,” Hamonic said. “The coaching staff gave AMac and myself that responsibility last season. I think we handled it very well, but it was a learning curve for the both of us. We grew a lot as players.”
The way he was playing as a rookie, the Islanders knew they couldn’t send the defenseman back to the Sound Tigers. Instead, the 6’2, 208-pound blue-liner stayed with the Islanders through the remaining 62 games, where he finished the season with five goals, 21 assists and a plus-4 rating. He also showed the Islanders that he’s not afraid to drop the gloves, adding 103 penalty minutes.
Forward Micheal Haley
has a similar story. After being recalled for two Islanders games at the end of the 2009-10 season, the forward began his third season with the Sound Tigers, but made noticeable improvements from the year before. At the time of his NHL call-up on Feb. 11, Haley had scored six additional goals and two more assists in 15 less games.
“Going into last year (in Bridgeport), I got the opportunity to play a lot of minutes, play the power play and play the penalty kill,” Haley said. “I knew I wasn’t going to get called up (to the Island) to be on the PP up here, but just try and help the team win games and expand on my hockey skills.”
Haley added, “It didn’t hurt that I played with about three quarters of the guys you see in this locker room at some point in Bridgeport or up here at camp. Since I was already comfortable with the coach and the players, I didn’t need to have that learning curve that most players require.”
In an instant, with two major fights (39 penalty minutes) and his first NHL goal in an epic 9-3 win over Pittsburgh - which would be the catalyst for an Islanders-Penguins rivalry for years to come - Haley catapulted his NHL career and became a fast fan favorite. Through the remaining 27 games of the season, the 5’10, 204-pound winger continued to prove himself as a physical fourth-liner.
As Haley and Hamonic transition to the NHL full time, their newfound confidence will go a long way.
“Last year, coming in, I was still a little bit nervous,” Hamonic said. “When I started to play my first couple exhibition games, I wasn’t sure what to expect. This year, I’ll be more familiar with everything and the speed of the game. So right from exhibition game one, even the first day of training camp, I’ll feel comfortable out there and I’ll be able to play my game right from the start.”
Earning a spot will be a competition.
“It’s going to be a competitive camp this year,” Hamonic said. “We have a lot of d-men coming in and that’s what we want, that internal competition. It’s what drives good teams to be great teams. For me, I want to come in, nothing is given and everything is earned. I want to make sure I earn my spot again this year.”
Even though Haley became an integral part of the Islanders roster last season, he must earn his spot again this season and stepped up his offseason preparation in hopes of beginning his full-time NHL journey right from camp.
“To stay in the NHL, that’s my goal, to be an NHL hockey player from now until the end of my career,” Haley said. “I trained really hard this summer, more than I ever have. Being in the NHL is my goal, I got a taste of it and I never want to leave it. I want to establish myself as an NHL player and move forward from there.”
So as Hamonic and Haley lace up their skates for their first full NHL seasons, they’ll work to show management they made the right choice by building players through the Sound Tigers system and giving them that one opportunity to never look back.