If it seems like Sound Tigers defenseman Travis Hamonic
and goaltender Kevin Poulin
are on the same page out on the ice, it’s because they share a unique history. The 22-year-olds met as junior prospects in 2008 at the Draft Combine in Toronto, where a common bond immediately made the two into friends.
“He was rooming with one of my buddies from Quebec at the combine and we just started talking,” Poulin said. “He was speaking French.”
It’s no surprise that Poulin, who hails from Montreal, QC, speaks fluent French. It may seem a bit more unusual, however, for someone from Western Canada like Hamonic to be fluent in both French and English. But as Hamonic explains, in the pocket of Southern Manitoba he calls home, it’s the standard.
“I’m from probably the best small town in the world,” Hamonic said. “It’s about an hour south of Winnipeg – a town called St. Malo. Probably a thousand people live there. It’s a French-farming-hockey-playing town. Those are probably the three terms to describe it. In Southern Manitoba there’s quite a bit of French heritage. It dates back a couple hundred years.”
Coincidentally, the Islanders selected both players at the 2008 NHL Draft – Hamonic in the second round, Poulin in the fifth. From there, the duo attended Training Camps together, and eventually became roommates in Bridgeport after turning pro in 2010.
“Every summer we had Training Camp and we hung around each other,” Poulin said. “When you’re new, you hang out with the other new guys and from there we just kept in touch during the season.”
“I helped him with his English a little and he helped me with his French,” Hamonic said. “I think when we communicate it’s usually half in English and half in French. It’s good for both of us.”
Poulin, on the other hand, remembers the language lessons a little differently.
“Maybe he helped me a little bit,” Poulin said. “But I think he just wants to act like the big brother on that one. I didn’t need much help but it’s better than it was before. I’m more confident speaking English, doing interviews and stuff like that.”
Given a chance to return the favor and take a jab at Hamonic’s French-speaking abilities, Poulin takes the high road.
“It’s actually not too bad,” Poulin said. “I was impressed by his French the other day. I was speaking to him and he got everything I was saying. I think he understands more than he lets on.”
Poulin and Hamonic roomed with Sound Tigers forward David Ullstrom during the 2010-11 season until Hamonic was called up to the NHL, 19 games in. This season, the trio will be back together in Bridgeport.
“We like to have a lot of fun,” Hamonic said. “At times, when you’re away from home, it’s tough, and it’s nice to have friendships where you’re that close to a couple guys.”
As anyone who has ever lived with a roommate can attest, you learn certain quirky things about one another. For instance, on Tuesday night in the pair’s training camp hotel room, Poulin’s most noticeable habit was on full display.
“He woke me up at 2:00 in the morning with his yelling,” Hamonic said. “Pouls is a big sleep-talker. He wakes me up pretty often.”
It begs the question: In what language was Poulin sleep-talking?
“I don’t know – I couldn’t understand it,” Hamonic said. “It was some sort of gibberish. That actually scared me a little bit. I shot out of bed wondering what the heck he was talking about.”
“He told me about that,” Poulin said. “I don’t know what I was saying but he got scared. But he was sleep-walking. He has to double-lock the door so he doesn’t end up in the lobby.”
Obviously neither player is afraid to give the other a good-natured ribbing. Hamonic says it’s part of what makes them click.
“I think we like to go back and forth at each other. We understand each other’s personalities and when to be comical and when to be serious with one another. I think that’s important in a friendship. It’s kind of funny on the ice. We’ll jab at each other in French. People kind of look at us bug-eyed, wondering what we’re saying.”
Above all, Poulin says that the chemistry between the two comes in handy on the job. Back at the apartment, they talk shop with one another, learning each other’s tendencies as roommates as well as hockey players.
“I know what he’s going to do on the ice,” Poulin said. “For instance, if I see a two-on-one, I know if he’s going to put more or less pressure on the puck because we have those conversations throughout the day.”
And it doesn’t matter if those conversations are in English or in French. As long as Hamonic and Poulin are on the same page.
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