The New York Islanders defensemen are one of the youngest squads in the National Hockey League with a median of 26. But on Tuesday morning, they got even younger. Twenty-year-old defenseman
Like any other young player, Hamonic was thrilled to get the call.
“I was actually sitting on my couch,” Hamonic said. “I live with three other guys back in Bridgeport. One of my roommates (Sound Tigers goaltender Kevin Poulin
) kind of joked around and looked at his phone and said, ‘I think you just got called up.’ So, I kind of got bug-eyed there for a second, ran up to my room and checked my phone, had a couple of missed phone calls, so I called my coach back up in Bridgeport.”
Immediately, Hamonic got on the phone to St. Malo, Manitoba to tell his mother and brother the good news, but the youngster is wise beyond his years and knows that keeping a level head will be a key to his success in the NHL.
“There’s going to be a lot of excitement and a lot of nerves,” Hamonic said about making his debut. “But, for me, I just want to make sure I go into the game playing calm and – just knowing that I got here doing what I’ve been doing. I really don’t want to get out of my comfort zone.”
Hamonic will be the seventh youngest defenseman to play in the National Hockey League this season, although Alexander Urbom (New Jersey Devils) and Nick Leddy (Chicago Blackhawks) are currently playing in the American Hockey League.
Despite his age, Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano knows that Hamonic is ready as he coached the defenseman in 15 games with Bridgeport this season before he got the call up to the NHL himself.
“He has good size,” Capuano said. “I’ve never coached a team where we’ve had five right-hand defensemen, but besides being a young prospect that shoots the puck extremely well, he plays physical and has come a long way the first month-and-a-half or two in Bridgeport. He activates, and he’ll join the rush. Hopefully, his nerves are where they need to be and he can just go out and have fun.”
Recalled from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Tuesday morning, Hamonic has made an outstanding debut in the American Hockey League. The rookie leads all Sound Tigers defensemen in scoring with seven points (2 goals, 5 assists) in his first 19 professional games.
“I think, whether it’s the American League, Junior, or the NHL I think whenever the game’s being played on the ice, it’s the same hockey game,” Hamonic said. “For me, I just want to go out there and make sure that I do what I do. I’m going to be keeping it simple out there, using my body and my skating ability to my advantage out there. Hopefully I can make some sort of difference.”
Capuano isn’t worried about Hamonic adjusting to the NHL. Besides making a great debut with the Sound Tigers, Hamonic earned a silver medal with Team Canada at the 2010 World Junior Championship, scoring one goal with two assists in six games.
“I think it will be pretty quick,” Capuano said. “He’s a guy who has had some pretty good experience in the World Championships, obviously not in the NHL, but I thought he had a really good Training Camp here. As long as Travis plays it simple, and his angles and his stick work down low are good, I don’t have any problem with Travis. I think he’ll adjust fairly quickly.”
|Travis Hamonic #36 of the New York Islanders skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center during preseason on October 1, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) |
Selected by the Islanders in the second round (53rd overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, the defenseman has had a few years of conditioning under his belt as he’s played the last four seasons in the Western Hockey League.
Last season, Hamonic earned 44 points (scoring 11 goals and 33 assists) in 41 regular season games, splitting the season with the Moose Jaw Warriors and the Brandon Wheat Kings. The defenseman added 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 15 games during the Memorial Cup Playoffs with Brandon.
Playing in the WHL, Hamonic was one of the larger players. But playing amongst 17 and 18-year-olds is much different than playing against men in the AHL or NHL, especially since Hamonic is a physical player that likes to use the body. As a result, the rookie spent his off season working extremely hard to strengthen his 6’2” 208-pound frame.
“I knew coming into the summer this was going to be a big season for me,” Hamonic said. “I really worked hard in the gym, both on and off the ice. Off the ice was not so much conditioning as strength building. I knew whether it was in the NHL or the AHL level, I would be playing against men.”
While he’s only been playing professional hockey for less than two months, Hamonic said that he has learned how to use his body better, he’s better at joining the rush and he’s built up his confidence, especially since he’s been playing a lot of minutes.
“It was a big learning curve and I’m glad I had that opportunity to really develop my game, but I’m ready to make an impact here in the NHL,” Hamonic said.
The best part of playing in his first NHL game will be sharing the experience with his mother and brother.
“They’re really looking forward to (my debut),” Hamonic said. “This is as big for them as it is for me right now because they’ve really supported me throughout the way. And obviously with my father not being here anymore, passing away 10 years ago, they’ve really been there every step of the way. It’s a big moment for me, but probably bigger for my family.”