|Veteran Binghamton Senators captain Denis Hamel makes it his responsibility to get his younger teammates ready for a shot at making it to the NHL (Just Sports Photography).
Denis Hamel looks around the Binghamton Senators dressing room, sees all the youngsters with dreams dancing in their eyes and can't help but smile.
He is much more than just the captain of the American Hockey League team, you see.
"It's always great to teach the young guys what to do," said Hamel, 32, who is now in his 13th season of professional hockey. "It makes me proud to see a lot of guys come here and go on to become NHL players. It's a great thing to see."
Hamel sees plenty of youth surrounding him on the current edition of the B-Sens, the Ottawa Senators' primary development team. Beyond himself and well-travelled defenceman Drew Bannister, it's a rather young group that can make use of the kind of veteran guidance that Hamel can offer.
"We have a young team, a really young team," said Hamel. "I think there's two guys over 30 and all the others are under 26. But we work hard all the time and we have a lot of speed, so that's what we have to use. We're working really hard and the numbers are getting better. It's always positive."
That's the kind of attitude that Hamel tries to impart to players that might be wondering why they're still toiling in the AHL. His own story certainly serves as an example in that area. While he's previously seen some serious NHL time with the Senators and Buffalo Sabres, his 13-year resume includes only 192 games in the bigs. And he'll likely spend a third straight full season with the B-Sens.
"When a young guy gets sent down here, he's often thinking 'I should be up there (in the NHL), why am I not up there,'" said Hamel. "But look at Brian Lee. He got sent down here (to start this season) and he worked hard and now he's going back up. It was the same thing with Nick Foligno
. He worked hard and now he's up there.
"If you want to get back there, you just do the things that you have to do."
And Hamel makes it clear he'll always be there to lend a guiding hand.
"One of my jobs (as captain) is to get the young guys going on the right track," said Hamel, a native of Lachute, Que., who was the St. Louis Blues' sixth-round pick (153rd overall) in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft. "I do everything I can to make sure they become NHL players someday. First of all, you have to make sure you work hard to get back up there. Never forget your dream. It's what you came here for."
He points toward defenceman Matt Carkner
– who spent eight years in the minors before finally landing a two-year contract with the Senators earlier this month – as a prime example of the kind of perseverance it takes to make the NHL.
"One of my jobs (as captain) is to get the young guys going on the right track. I do everything I can to make sure they become NHL players someday. First of all, you have to make sure you work hard to get back up there. Never forget your dream. It's what you came here for." - Denis Hamel
"It's never too late to make it up there," said Hamel. "People think you're 32, it's too late, but age is just a number. I teach the young guys never to shut the door and make sure you work hard so you can be up there in a shorter time."
While he's currently on an AHL contract, Hamel hasn't given up on his own dreams. Yes, he's that 32-year-old for whom the clock hasn't yet stopped ticking.
"You never know what could happen," he said. "I don't expect to get recalled this year ... but somebody could get injured and you get the call. So you never really shut the door."
Then again, he's still getting the opportunity to play the game that he loves, even if it's at the AHL level. It's not exactly a bad way to make a living.
"I'm really happy that I'm still playing and having fun," said Hamel. "It's always better playing hockey than working 40 hours a week."
Hamel and the B-Sens will also enjoy the chance to play at Scotiabank Place on Nov. 8, when they face off against the Hamilton Bulldogs at 3 p.m.
"It's always great to play in Ottawa," he said. "It'll be nice for us to get the chance to prove we're still good players and we're working hard and, hopefully, we can be NHL players again."