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Five Questions: Hamonic on Islanders' resurgence

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features New York Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic:

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Travis Hamonic could have chosen to go almost anywhere for a vacation during the upcoming 2015 NHL All-Star Weekend.

Bahamas, Bermuda, Miami? Nope. Hamonic is going home to Winnipeg, where the high temperature Wednesday is expected to be 16 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Weather.com.

He can't wait.

"That's what I know," Hamonic told NHL.com. "I've got a cabin about two hours away, so I'll get away and do some ice fishing."

Travis Hamonic
Defense - NYI
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 8 | PTS: 11
SOG: 59 | +/-: 4
Sun or snow, Hamonic has earned a mini-vacation like the rest of his teammates, except for John Tavares and Jaroslav Halak, who will represent the Islanders in the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Sunday (5 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

The Islanders will enter 2015 NHL All-Star Weekend with 63 points, the most in the Metropolitan Division. They currently have the most points in the Eastern Conference, one more than the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Before heading west and into hiding for a few days on the ice on top of one of Manitoba's many lakes, Hamonic spoke about the Islanders success this season, including his thoughts on their attitude and mentality, in the following Q&A with NHL.com:

Here are Five Questions with … Travis Hamonic:

After going through some of the dark days, what comes to your mind when you think about what it took to get to this point, where the Islanders are not only relevant again but playing like a serious contender?

"Obviously there were a couple of years there where things weren't really going our way, and then we had the playoff run a couple seasons ago. We've had some new pieces come to our team, but for the most part it's been relatively the same personnel, the same people. I think we've always believed in our group and what we're trying to accomplish here. By no means have we accomplished anything yet, but I feel like we're playing some pretty good hockey and we're just trying to get better each game. With the group that we have, we've definitely been through some tough seasons. We always felt we were ready to push for a playoff spot, always felt we were right there, and I think this year, with the acquisitions we got, it just seems like there is a different mentality around our room, around our team. We wanted to make sure we took that next step this season, and I think the coaches have done a great job, and as players we've done a good job of buying into their system and trying to play the way they want us to."

I heard Kyle Okposo say the other day, "We don't care what other people say about us." That tells me there still seems to be that old chip on the shoulder to try to prove people wrong. Is there?

"Well we don't [care what other people have to say], but quite frankly I really couldn't care less. Whether people write good things or bad things, or people say whatever they want to say, that's not going to change what we're doing in there, and it hasn't changed in the time that I've been here. I think that we're confident in our abilities and confident in our group, and I think we're seeing the results of that this season. Statistically it's been a successful one for us so far, but we know there is obviously a lot more to do. This season is still through only the midway point, but I don't think we've ever, whether it's good or bad, really let some of the negative things written about us really creep into our game and our dressing room. Maybe now it's the positive stuff, but I think it just goes back to us believing as a group and not really occupying ourselves with what is going on outside of this dressing room. I think that it's brought some success to us this year as we're able to kind of turn a new leaf. There have been times when we've played a couple bad games in a row and we knew we were going to get out of it."

We have talked about the shoot-first mentality that you guys have had this season, but other than that, stylistically and system-wise, what has been a big key to the success the team has had this season?

"Our forecheck. Man, I watch how some of the defensemen have to play against our forwards and it makes me happy that I'm on this team, because they give some guys fits. We have guys that get in on the body and hit and hit. They're just relentless. As a defenseman, maybe in the first and second it doesn't wear you down, but come the third period it's going to wear you down. Obviously I'm not getting in on the forecheck, but from that perspective it looks like it makes things difficult on other teams, and I think we have one of the best forward groups in the League. But Jaro [Halak] has been unbelievable this season, can't say enough good things about him, so when there are chances to be had, he's been there to shut the door every time."

If you look at the distribution of minutes on defense now, everyone is basically in that 18-22 minute range. What have the additions of Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy meant to your game, your minutes?

"First, you have two guys who fit in the dressing room. That was probably the biggest thing, they came in right away and their personalities meshed with what we had in our group. They've obviously brought a lot on the ice. They've won, and they're good players respectively in their own ways. Those two kind of complement each other well as a pair. As a defensive corps, what it has really done is it's allowed us to play in our roles. For me, I enjoy playing against those best players, and that's part of my job. What I bring to the team is trying to match up against some of those best players and trying to shut those guys down. Those guys [Boychuk and Leddy] are so good offensively that they're always getting up in the rush and on the power play, doing those things, so for me I can just concentrate on my game and try to get better in the aspects where I feel I can help the team.

"It's ironic because in junior I was an offensive guy, but ever since I got to the League, I was always told you should try to find something you're good at and try to be the best at it. So I knew that was going to be my bread and butter in the National Hockey League, trying to be a shutdown guy, so for me to take that step forward, it seems like those acquisitions have really given some distribution to the minutes so I can concentrate on what I want to do and those guys can concentrate on what they want to do. Quite frankly, as a defensive corps you want to get in the game. It's tough when one guy is playing 30 minutes and some guys aren't, so give or take 35 or 40 seconds, everyone is within that range and all three pairs get in the game. And all three pairs have done a good job this season. Sure, we've all made our mistakes, but what team hasn't? Those two acquisitions, it's a big thing. And now heading into the second part of the season, you know, they've won. They've played deep into the playoffs, and not a lot of us have. A lot of us just have that one playoff experience, so you try to draw on things like that. Thumbs up to (general manager) Garth (Snow); those were big moves."

What has it been like to walk into the Coliseum now, knowing it's the last season here and the crowd to date has been phenomenal in support of the team?

"Yeah, you know what? Honestly, I don't walk in every time and think, 'Oh, this is the last year.' But I do certainly walk in and think, 'Oh, we're going to have a great crowd tonight.' It's been that way for a long time. I don't know how many sellouts in a row we've had this year, but it's been good. They're a fan base that is very passionate, one way or the other, but they just want to see us win and they want to see a good effort. Every night we try to put that forth. You can see the energy when after we win with the whole 'Yes, yes, yes' thing. Little things like that, for the fans to make those acknowledgments for us as players, goes a long way because we feed off of that. Anyone that tells you they don't, I don't know what they're thinking. You get out there and you feel the emotion, you feel how passionate they are, and they want to win. We've tried to put on a good show so far at home. Obviously this is the last season, so it'd be nice to go out with a bang."

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