Travis Hamonic wasn't expecting any award nominations for his work with children. Recognition wasn't on his mind while he was supporting grieving kids over the past five years, he just did it because it was the right thing to do and he unfortunately can relate to their experience.
But five years into his Hamonic's D-Partner program, Hamonic and his mission are in the NHL spotlight, as he was named a finalist for the NHL Foundation Player Award on Wednesday night.
"It's obviously pretty humbling, but you do this work not to be recognized, so I guess it's with a lot of humility," Hamonic said on Wednesday. "You're doing this work and your focus is to try and do good for other people, not for yourself. It's kind of a different award to be nominated for."
Being nominated for the NHL Foundation Player Award comes with a lot of emotions for Hamonic.
It's an honor, but awkward. It shines a light on the good work he's done, helping the healing process for children who have lost a parent, but he acknowledges it stems from personal tragedies. If there's healing, there naturally has to be a wound.
Video: Travis Hamonic up for NHL Foundation Player Award
For Hamonic and the children he works with, that wound is the loss of a parent. Hamonic lost his father when he was 10 years old and felt that there weren't a lot of outlets to talk about what he was going through or how he was feeling. He wants to be that support for others who've been through a similar tragedy, so five years ago he started the "Hamonic's D-Partner" program, inviting a child or family, who has lost a parent unexpectedly, to attend a game. They watch the game and get a tour of the locker room, but they're really there to talk to Hamonic.
Their conversations are private, intimate and emotional, but Hamonic hopes they can be beneficial. He wants these kids to know they have someone they can talk to, someone who unfortunately knows first-hand the pain of losing a parent. He just wants them to know they can talk about it in general.
"It's one of those stereotypical things that you're not supposed to talk about it and you're supposed to be tough all the time and it's something we're trying to get better at as a group collectively," he said.
If being nominated for an award is humbling, that's nothing compared to being approached by a grieving parent looking to help his or her child.
"It is humbling that people trust me with their personal stories, their history and their life and allow me to be able to hear what they are going through," Hamonic said. "It's a pretty intimate thing. It isn't taken lightly by any means."
Hamonic meets a family after every Islanders home game and occasionally on the road. Aside from his feature on ESPN's E:60 - which Hamonic was reluctant to do, but did to reach out to more families - he isn't interested in showcasing himself. Everything is first and foremost about helping kids, through sharing his feelings and experiences as part of his own healing process.
"The whole point of this program is to reach out to as many people as possible and let everybody know that whatever sense of grief you're going through, you're not going through it alone and it's definitely okay to talk about it," Hamonic said.
While he wants to help as many people as possible, there's a sad truth that being able to reach more families means there are more families in need. It's something Hamonic said he wouldn't wish upon anyone, but since these tragedies are out there, he wants to help in any way he can. He gives out his personal information so these children can reach out to him if they ever need help, or just someone to talk to.
"I hope what it teaches them is that they're not alone and together things are a lot stronger than apart," he said. "So if you're able to share your experiences with someone, it's certainly going to make you feel unified and stronger because you know someone else is going through the exact same thing."
Video: Travis Hamonic on being a Foundation Award finalist
The D-Partner program finished its fifth year this season and to date, Hamonic has met with more than 150 families and 200 children. He said he's learned invaluable lessons from his experiences meeting these kids over the years.
"The first thing that comes to mind is that it teaches me I'm not alone in it," Hamonic said.
The second, is that it puts his life as a hockey player in perspective. Hamonic is one of the Islanders' alternate captains and emotional leaders, but as much as his team needs him, there's someone waiting outside the locker room who needs him more.
"Amongst a lot of things that it does, it keeps me in check as to what my life really is and how there's a lot more to it and a way bigger picture involved," Hamonic said. "My career is going to be done one day and you want to be known as someone who tried to do some good in the world. I think that's the bigger aspect. The truth is whether you're a hockey player, a lawyer, a teacher, a dentist, it doesn't matter what you do for a living, it's our duty to be good people.