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Road to the Coliseum: Travis Hamonic

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
Growing up in St. Malo, Manitoba, nearly 45 miles south of Winnipeg, Travis Hamonic is used to cold weather, ice and snow.  In winter months, temperatures can drop as low as -22 degrees Fahrenheit, while it averages somewhere between 13.5 and -4.

“It gets really cold where I’m from,” Hamonic said. “For me, it’s normal. It didn’t happen often, but sometimes we’d have pretty big storms and it would rain a little bit, then the ground would freeze, so the sidewalks would all be frozen. Instead of walking with our skates to the rink, we figured why not put them on and skate down the sidewalk to get there?”

Travis Hamonic #36 of the New York Islanders skates against the Phoenix Coyotes on December 18, 2010 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. Coyotes defeat the Islanders 4-3 in a OT shootout. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
In one of the coldest climates a person could imagine, skating wasn’t Hamonic’s main source of travel. Neither were the more typical modes of transportation like a car or bus. In a town of barely 450 people, Hamonic said there were more snowmobiles on the road than cars. He and his friends used to take their snowmobiles wherever they went, including a 45-minute ride alongside the highway to the hockey rink.

“I have many, many memories of cold walks to the local rink or cold snowmobile (skidoo) rides to the rink,” Hamonic said. “We would wear our hockey bag as if it were a school bag and we’d run our sticks across the handlebars of our skidoo and we’d skidoo to the rink.”

For the kids in St. Malo, it was easy to find free ice time to skate, play pick-up hockey and practice their individual skills. Every day after school, Hamonic, his older brother Jesse and their friends would walk to the local rink for the two-hour public skate.

“I think that’s really when I started to hone my skills and pick up on different moves,” Hamonic said. “Slowly I was getting better and better each day. I began skating seven days a week and it was purely out of the love for the game and wanting to succeed.”

He began his youth hockey career at age five, dressing for the St. Malo Warriors, a Junior B team. Three years later, he and his teammates dyed their hair green to match their team colors during the 1998 Keystone Junior Hockey League Championships, helping to create one of his favorite childhood memories. They went on to win the tournament.

That summer, he joined a summer league and started playing for the Manitoba Mighty Moose.

When he was 14, Hamonic and his family moved to Winnipeg. There, he began his Bantam career playing for the Winnipeg Sharks, a AAA team in the Winnipeg Minor Hockey League. That same year, Hamonic was drafted in the ninth round of the Western Hockey League Bantam Draft to the Moose Jaw Warriors.

“I didn’t have the best year and I was pretty small at the time,” Hamonic said of his year with the Sharks. “I hadn’t grown. When I got drafted (by the Warriors), I was about 5’8” and maybe 160-pounds soaking wet. I was pretty small. Nonetheless, that was something that I was pretty proud of and pretty grateful for because I just wanted an opportunity and that helps put a foot in the door.”

Before he could begin his junior career, Hamonic still had a year left before he was age-eligible, so he played his Midget year with the Winnipeg Wild, a team in the Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League. That summer, Hamonic had a growth spurt; he grew three inches and added more than 20-pounds to his frame.

“I grew over that summer to probably 5’11” and 180-pounds,” Hamonic said. “That’s when I really started growing into my body. I think that’s really where my career and my strengths and abilities really started taking a lot of steps in the right direction.”

Sean Avery #16 of the New York Rangers is hit by Travis Hamonic #36 of the New York Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum on December 2, 2010 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Disappointment set in when Hamonic, finally 16, arrived at the Moose Jaw Warriors training camp.

“When I came in as a 16-year-old, I actually got cut my first training camp,” Hamonic said. “I was pretty upset about that because it was a pretty big dream to play in the Western League at 16. I ended up coming home and playing Junior A for half of the season with the Junior A Winnipeg Saints and I had a really great half of a season there.”

By the holiday season, Hamonic received a phone call from Moose Jaw, asking him to play the remainder of the 2006-07 season with them. The blueliner never looked back.

The following year, his first full junior season, Hamonic had the opportunity to play in a top-two defensive pair and scored five goals and 17 assists in 61 games, which helped him draw attention from NHL scouts. That summer, he was drafted by the Islanders in the second round, 53rd overall, of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

Despite going so early in the draft, Hamonic didn’t make the trip to Ottawa, ON. In fact, he and his family sat around the television and constantly hit refresh on their web browser.

“My mom saw the pick on the internet; she was the first one to tell me,” Hamonic said. “The joy on her face, the excitement, is something that I will never forget for the rest of my life because you realize how significant it really is.”

Through all the excitement, a piece of the family was missing. Hamonic’s father passed away when Travis was 10.

“We all kind of looked at each other and said right away, we wished Dad was still around to see this,” Hamonic said. “That’s obviously a big void in my family, not having my dad around to watch me succeed in hockey, but as a family, we were very excited.”

After the draft, Hamonic went back to Moose Jaw for two more seasons, where he represented Canada in the World Junior Championships, helping them to a silver medal with one goal and two assists in six games, while recording a team-best plus-nine rating.

“I went back to Moose Jaw and tried to work on my skills more than anything,” Hamonic said. “Going into the World Junior Championship at Christmas time, I was the highest scoring defenseman in Canada. I think that might be something that a lot of people overlook, is how well I was doing defensively because I was also doing well offensively.”

Representing Canada was one of Hamonic’s most memorable hockey moments to date.

“The world junior team is such a high-ranked, high-profile team in Canada, every kid really just wants an opportunity to make this team,” Hamonic said. “For me, I was grateful. I put in a lot of hard work and I got a couple invites to camp. I really wanted to take my game to the next level.”

After the tournament, he was traded to the Brandon Wheat Kings with 10 games left in the regular season so that he’d have the opportunity to compete for the Memorial Cup.

Travis Hamonic of the New York Islanders watches the prospects evaluation camp at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on July 13, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Following his fourth and final junior season, Hamonic would attend his second Islanders training camp and this time, he was there knowing he was about to embark on his pro career.

“At 20-years-old, getting the opportunity to play in the American Hockey League is pretty exciting,” Hamonic said of joining the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at the start of the 2010-11 season. “I was excited for my first couple games and the coaching staff right from my first game in Bridgeport, really showed a lot of trust in me and a lot of responsibility. I played upwards of 30 minutes my first three games. It really gave me an opportunity to succeed.”

From that first taste, Hamonic’s confidence grew. Nineteen games later, he led all Sound Tigers defensemen in scoring and received the call-up he craved.

“I just knew that I was going to get my shot eventually with the Islanders and when I did, I wanted to make the best of it and try to stick.”

By the end of the 2010-11 season, Hamonic established himself as a critical part of the defensive core, leading all blueliners in goals and ranking second in points and assists.

You can be sure that when the Islanders return to Winnipeg this season to take on the Jets, Hamonic won’t be riding the skidoo to the MTS Centre, he’ll be on the team bus.
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