| |Curtis Hamilton (left) celebrates after scoring one of his two goals against Sweden on December 31. (photo by Getty Images)
BUFFALO, NY -- Oilers prospect Curtis Hamilton
has already had some highlight-reel moments for Team Canada so far in this tournament and he will be looking to add to that tally tonight in the Gold Medal Game.
One of the few Canadian players in the history of the tournament actually born south of the 49th - Tacoma, Washington - Hamilton grew up in a hockey family.
His father, Bruce Hamilton, was drafted by the St. Louis Blues and had a brief minor pro career. After Hamilton retired, he held a number of different roles in hockey, most notably as the owner of the Tacoma Rockets. The team has since moved to Kelowna where he now serves as the team's president and general manager.
Having that hockey experiences in the family to fall back on helped Curtis as he endured a tough 2009-10 campaign that saw his draft ranking plunge to the point where The Hockey News had him ranked 96th. However, the Oilers saw potential in him and scooped him up with their third second round pick - 48th overall. It's a gamble that looks like it's now paying off.
"He's an extremely smart player. He's a great two-way player, strong, got good size," said Oilers head scout Stu MacGregor on the day of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles. "A guy that has good vision. Very, very good penalty killer. Just a guy that plays hard and smart."
Oilers GM Steve Tambellini agreed.
"He's a player that a coach can trust. He's a big man. He plays hard."
After scoring 20 goals and 48 points in 58 games in 2008-09, two collarbone injuries limited Hamilton to only 26 games last season. He scored only seven goals and had only 16 points.
"A lot of times that happens through the growth and development," Tambellini said of Hamilton's injury troubles. "He's a dependable two-way player. He can play against good players and he can play with good players."
|Hamilton has 15 goals and 42 points in 31 games with Saskatoon |
Hamilton has done just that for Canada. A bit of a longshot to make the this year's World Junior team at the start of the season, Hamilton established himself as a go-to player for the Saskatoon Blades and a fast start that included 15 goals and 42 points in 31 games earned him an invite to camp. From there, he has skyrocketed to the point where he's often been seen on Canada's top line alongside Brayden Schenn.
"I think of myself as kind of a versitile player who can play on the first line and on the fourth line if need be. Doesn't really matter where I'm playing as long as I'm creating chances and being strong in my own end," said Hamilton.
As for his success in Saskatoon, Hamilton attributed it to being able to play injury free.
"Staying healthy has been a big part of it, I think we have a really good team there, we've been rolling," he said. "Last year, injuries sort of set me back a little bit, this year I've had a strong first half and it gave me a perfect chance to be here. I had a really good camp and that's why I'm here."
And Hamilton really is happy to be here in Buffalo, contributing any way he can.
"It's been good. I think it's a bit of a learning experience. It's different being the go-to guy on your club team and then coming here and being a role player. It's a different experience and it's been a lot of fun."
|Hamilton scores to give Canada an early 1-0 lead in the semifinal over Team USA (photo by Getty Images) |
Although he hasn't seen a lot of power play time he's been put out in key situations and come up with some big goals as a result.
Against Sweden, Hamilton scored two very timely goals. The first one put Canada in the lead late in the first period and the second one got the Canadians back on even terms after Sweden had re-taken a 4-3 lead.
Hamilton then one-upped himself several days later in the semifinals as he scored Canada's opening, tone-setting goal against the USA.
"I slipped in there on the back door. Cody Eakin made a nice pass to me and I just kind of banged it in," said Hamilton, describing the goal.
"It's a goal that I'll never forget. It's probably my best goal so far."'TONS OF SUPPORT'
Observing that semifinal game was Oilers General Manager Steve Tambellini, who marvelled at the ability of his prospect to rise under pressure.
"This is one of the biggest moments in their hockey career. They think about this from the time they first play hockey to the one day that they get a chance to play in the World Junior tournament in front of 20,000 people," stated Tambellini of the annual tournament.
Although this tournament has been held in the United States, the entire city of Buffalo has been overtaken by Canadians. Hamilton has been blown away by the support.
"All of our games down here we've had tons of support which is awesome," Hamilton said. "Time's kind of flown by here. We've been together for almost a month and I've made a lot of good bonds with the guys here. We're just looking for one more game."
That one game goes tonight and Hamilton will be hoping for yet another historic performance to get the 19,000 fans clad in red and white off their seats.