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Senators' Hammond stealing spotlight, victories

by Chris Stevenson /

OTTAWA -- When Ottawa Senators goaltender Andrew Hammond was preparing for his first NHL start Feb. 18 against the Montreal Canadiens, a couple of reporters waited by his dressing-room stall after the morning skate.

"Do you talk on game days?" asked one.

"I guess so. I've never really had anybody want to talk me on a game day," said the 27-year-old undrafted free agent who was thrust into the starting job after injuries to top Senators goaltenders Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner.

Things were a little different Friday.

Hammond, who had 35 minutes of NHL experience prior to this season, is 6-0-1 with a 1.35 goals-against average and .957 save percentage in eight games. He is the biggest reason the Senators have been able to charge back into the Stanley Cup Playoff race in the Eastern Conference. They were 14 points out of the second wild card on Feb. 10; going into their game Friday against the Buffalo Sabres at Canadian Tire Centre, they were five points back.

The story has taken on added shine with his nickname, "The Hamburglar," given to him by a teammate at Bowling Green State University. It's a combination of his name, his ability to steal games, and the character from the McDonald's restaurant commercials in the 1980s.

The Hamburglar's likeness appears on the right side of Hammond's mask (though Hammond's Hamburglar looks more like Alfred E. Neuman of "Mad" magazine fame).

When Hammond came off the ice after the morning skate Friday, there were a half-dozen cameras and almost twice as many reporters at his stall.

Hammond is a hot topic here. TSN 1200, Ottawa's all-sports radio station, produced a Hammond/Hamburglar tribute song to the tune of Billy Idol's "White Wedding."

In keeping with "The Hamburglar" theme, the Senators announced Friday that fans attending the game against the Sabres will be able to redeem their tickets for a free McDonald's hamburger.

"I think it’s funny," Hammond said of people latching onto "The Hamburglar" hype. "It's all in good fun, but I think other people are starting to enjoy it more than me now. But it's pretty cool in all regards."

Hammond said he's aware of the sensation he has become but is trying to distance himself from the noise.

He spent Thursday relaxing after the Senators' road trip to California, Minnesota and Winnipeg, when Hammond went 4-0-1 and stopped 159 of 164 shots. He started the trip with back-to-back shutouts against the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings.

"I laid low for the most part," Hammond said. "I did some running around. I slept in a bit [Thursday]. I just tried catching up on sleep. Obviously it's a fun time. It's fun for the fans. It's fun for me. I'm having a little bit of fun. But at the same time you've got to make sure you're ready to do your job.

"… You know what? If it ended today and I looked back on it and I wasn't having fun, it wouldn't be worth it. It's something I've worked hard for and there's a fine line between having fun and doing your job still, and I think I'm able to manage that right now. I'm really enjoying it though. It's a lot of fun. The city is kind of rallying around the team right now and it's been a blast."

Hammond knows what the narrative has been, that he is a Cinderella story who has come from nowhere.

He came from the struggling Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League where he was 7-13-2 with a 3.51 GAA and .898 save percentage.

He was pulled 36 seconds into a game against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Dec. 17 when he gave up three goals on three shots in 21 seconds.

There certainly wasn't much there to hint at what would happen after he was called up by the Senators on an emergency basis Jan. 29 when Anderson showed up after the All-Star break with a hand injury.

Hammond was given the starter's job when Lehner sustained a concussion Feb. 16 against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Hammond said he gets the Cinderella theme, but doesn't totally agree with it.

"I understand why it's a big story," he said. "I understand that it can be perceived that I came out of nowhere and I get that. At the same time, I've worked really hard for it. I don't necessarily feel it's something I came to expect. But I feel I earned it.

"It's something I'm proud of. If anyone can take something from my story in their own lives, then that's great because there was a point in my life where I thought hockey was kind of over. When you work hard and recommit yourself to the game, you can see what happens. People in different walks of life can kind of take that into their own lives."

Hammond walked away from hockey a couple of times during his junior career growing up in British Columbia. The first time was for a couple of weeks after he was cut, and he thought about it again when he was traded. But he was talked into sticking with it by a couple of coaches.

"For 2 1/2 weeks I thought I was done with it," Hammond said. "After 2 1/2 weeks I got the phone call from my coach and he got me back on the team and that kind of reignited the flame. To have the game taken away, even if it was for only a few weeks, it kind of makes this a little bit more special."

The Senators look like they have rallied around Hammond to make this run special.

Senators defenseman Mark Borowiecki was a teammate of Hammond's in the AHL and they became friends.

"I don't think you're going to find a single guy in here who isn't rooting for him," Borowiecki said. "He's the most normal goalie I've ever met. He's just a nice guy. He's a great guy; he's just easy. Dave [Cameron, Senators coach] has said it numerous times: 'He's an easy guy to cheer for.'

"He's playing so well, it's just remarkable, and everybody is having some fun with it."

Borowiecki said he's seen Hammond play like this before, and the performances have been based on the kind of casual assurance Hammond has displayed.

"He's quietly very confident," Borowiecki said. "He's very calm. He's always been like that. He was like that in the American League too. I think that's the key up here. As a young guy myself going through that, if you get too up or too down, it really takes a toll on you mentally and emotionally. He's done a great job of staying even-keeled and I think it reflects in his play."

OK, but 6-0-1 in his first significant NHL action?

"Do you expect any goalie to come and go with that kind of record and stats? No," Borowiecki said. "People were giving him a hard time this year because of his stats in the American League. They are having a tough year down there as a team. I don't think it's a reflection on any one person. I had a chance to see him steal games for us all the time in the American League. We had a strong team last year when I was down there and he was a big part of it. It's not really that surprising for me to see him playing the way he is. But the record is going to surprise you a little bit."

The question now is, how long can Hammond sustain his outstanding play?

Cameron was asked Friday if Hammond was the real deal or a player on a hot streak.

"He's the real deal until the streak ends," he said. "That's not for me to say. He isn't beating bad teams … let's give him credit. Let's not call him a flash in the pan. He's the real deal to me. He's the real deal to our hockey club right now. We wouldn't be where we are, closing in on the gap, if it wasn't for him."

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