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Hamonic staying with Islanders after all

by Brian Compton / New York Islanders

Since becoming an Islander, he has invited hundreds of children living in situations similar to Hamonic's to every home game, and even some on the road, so they can meet and discuss how to cope with the loss of a loved one.

It is the character he brings to the Islanders on and off ice, the example he sets, that New York would miss the most. He never does it for the attention. He does it because that's simply who he is.

The New York Islanders had just arrived home after managing a split in the first two games of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Florida Panthers. They were tired, having played Stanley Cup Playoff games on back-to-back nights.

After a brief optional skate and media session at their practice facility, defenseman Travis Hamonic was leaving in his pickup truck when he spotted me with my 6-year-old son, Christopher.

"Is this the kid predicting all our scores?" Hamonic said, referring to my son's playoff predictions the Islanders had spotted on Twitter. It was. Hamonic got out of his truck, took a picture with my son, shook his hand and was on his way.

It was a small gesture that made a little boy's year, but provided another glimpse into the kind of athlete and person Hamonic is and the void he would have left in the Islanders locker room had the trade request he made to Garth Snow in September because of an illness in his family been granted.

Knowing Hamonic's background, it's clear the family issue was serious; he lost his father, Gerald Hamonic, to a heart attack in September 2000. Travis was 10.

STORY/GALLERY: ISLANDERS CLEAN OUT DAY

So when the Islanders gathered Tuesday to clean out their lockers and say goodbye for the summer, or possibly longer, there was certainly a feeling of sadness.

But it proved to be perhaps the best day of what will still be a long offseason. Hamonic, who elevated his game this season despite having to worry about the ill family member back home, went into Snow's office to let him know that the medical issue had stabilized. He wants to stay with the team he never wanted to leave in the first place.

"I want to thank the organization, my teammates most importantly for the support," an emotional Hamonic said Tuesday. "Garth and I spoke last summer, the whole reason why this was brought up and came about was some serious health concerns from someone extremely close to me and my family, an extremely close family member of mine back home, and it was a tough and trying year. But obviously I had support of the organization behind me throughout the whole thing and I couldn't be more thankful for that. In the last little while, we learned that the situation has stabilized itself.

"First and foremost is just relief for that, [being] thankful for that and pretty grateful. I love being an Islander. It's my home here. My family loves it. We enjoy living here. I obviously enjoy my teammates and I love them; I love this organization. I said it the other day, being an Islander is one of the best things I do with my life and I could not be more eager for next year's training camp."

Captain John Tavares is the Islanders' most irreplaceable player. But one could make a strong case that Hamonic, who lets his emotions show every night and led the Islanders by averaging 23:49 of ice time per game during the regular season and more than 26 minutes in the playoffs, is No. 2.

Never mind that Hamonic, 25, is a right-handed shot with one of the more salary-cap friendly contracts in the NHL (he has four years remaining at an annual rate of less than $4 million).

"Forgetting him being a top defensemen on our hockey club and the minutes he logs, having a good guy and having a good teammate and a good leader and character guy ... you need those types of guys to win," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "Travis being a part of our team is obviously a good plus for our hockey club."

5 TAKEAWAYS FROM THE ISLANDERS SEASON

One by one, players addressed the media Tuesday morning, perhaps unaware Hamonic, a second-round pick (No. 53) by the Islanders in the 2008 NHL Draft who has played 395 regular-season games and 17 in the playoffs, had rescinded his trade request. They spoke about the hole his potential departure would leave on their blue line and in their locker room.

"Some things affected Travis in a big way, and we supported him all season and he played tremendous all season," Tavares said. "I think as a team and myself, we're really impressed with how he responded and just kept playing hard and really even elevated his game after a lot of that had come out.

"It's obviously a very tough guy to replace. If that happens, hopefully we can get some players or a player that can make a big impact like he did. Hard guy to [replace] like we've been talking about. He's been here a long time and he's been part of the group that's been through a lot. We've been here together and obviously we've gotten to know each other really well."

The Islanders still head into an offseason of uncertainty -- key forwards Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin can become an unrestricted free agent July 1 -- but at least they know they won't have to part with their heart-and-soul defenseman.

"I love it here, I honestly do," Hamonic said. "I wouldn't have signed my seven-year deal if I didn't love it here. I love everything about being an Islander, so I couldn't be more ecstatic. To know things back home have stabilized is the main thing."

When the Islanders open training camp, Hamonic will be relieved to know that questions about his future in New York will no longer be asked, nor will anyone try to pry out of him what his situation was back home. Never one seeking the spotlight, Hamonic can focus on helping the Islanders try to win the Stanley Cup, the same way he helped them win a playoff series this year for the first time since 1993.

"I'm certainly not one to enjoy any of this attention, and it seems like a lot of it this year was around for the wrong reason," he said. "I wish it had been more of the focal point of [my] play on the ice and things like that, but I understand that there's that side of it. I'm excited just to put this aspect of it behind me and move forward and hopefully not talk about this again.

"I want to be here. I want to win a Cup. I don't want to put a timeline on [when things improved], it's probably hard. I never wanted to leave. That never was anything about this. I love being here. I love my time here and I couldn't be any happier."

Neither can Islanders brass and the people Hamonic has touched over the past six years in New York.

This is home, and home it will stay.

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