REGINA — The party wasn’t arranged in Travis Hamonic’s honour but the serendipity of moment wasn’t lost on the Calgary Flames defenceman.
Hamonic couldn’t have orchestrated a more unforgettable scenario with which to celebrate the 600th game of his NHL career — the 2019 NHL Heritage Classic under the bright lights of Mosaic Stadium.
“I was trying to keep that a secret,” the Manitoba product joked to reporters, prior to the game. “It’s a neat experience, something I’ll always remember. Hopefully, many more (games) to come.
“He’s a glue guy. You need about four or five guys just like Hammer.” – Flames head coach Bill Peters on Hamonic
“You grow up, and with the profession there’s always doubters, always people telling you that you’re never going to make it. You obviously want to keep building, keep building and keep playing more games, but I think it’s one of those things that at the end of your career you can look back. Whatever amounts of games I’m fortunate and moreso blessed from God to play, you appreciate.
“For this to be 600, in this kind of setting, in this venue, I think when I’m older I’ll look back and be happy with it.”
While neither side has a participant born and raised in Saskatchewan, the significance of the outdoor game at the home of the CFL’s Roughriders likely resonates more with the 29-year-old from St. Malo than any other player here.
Hamonic spent the bulk of his four-year junior hockey career just 70 kilometres west on the Trans-Canada for the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL and was a big part of some epic battles with the Regina Pats during that stretch.
Despite growing up in a household of Jets fans before the franchise moved to Arizona, he became an ardent Flames fan as a teen. Worlds are, indeed, colliding this weekend for Hamonic, who had plenty of family and friends from Manitoba in the crowd. His wife, Stephanie, expecting the couple’s second child next month, stayed home in Calgary with 17-month-old daughter, Charlie.
“Growing up as a kid in Manitoba you’re gonna be a huge supporter of the Jets. Obviously, the team left and, believe it not, playing junior hockey in Saskatchewan I became a huge Flames fan. All the games were on TV and those are the games you’re exposed to,” he said. “It’s ironically how it’s worked out, as you get older.
“Nowadays, all my friends and family are just excited to watch and be here, and are wearing their Hamonic jerseys and just taking it all in.”
Drafted by New York Islanders in the second round (53rd overall) in 2008, Hamonic played seven seasons south of the border before getting dealt to the Flames in the summer of 2017. Last season, he fired a career-high seven goals and chipped in 12 assists.
Hamonic, listed at 6-2, 205 pounds, had just a lone assist this season prior to Saturday’s contest. However, his offensive production has never jumped off the page and his true worth lies in his reliability as a solid, physical defender. He patrols the right side on the second defensive pairing with Noah Hanifin, and plays a major role on the squad’s penalty kill (PK), ranked fourth in the NHL (88.9 per cent efficiency).
Calgary head coach Bill Peters is grateful he’s got a guy like Hamonic at his disposal, an ‘old-school’ type of player unafraid to lay his body out to block a slapshot off the stick of Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, as he did last Tuesday, or rush to the defence of a teammate, as he did last year in a fight with Vancouver’s Erik Gudbanson. He suffered a broken jaw and shattered teeth in that scrap — and is still flashing a few missing Chiclets.
“He’s one of those guys who’s as consistent as they come. You can set your clock by him. You know what you’re going to get out of Hammer, he’s a really good pro, really good in the room, really good when things are going bad, a real good voice on the ice, brings a lot of energy to the rink and really has a passion to play the game,” said Peters, in an interview Friday.
“He’s had a good career to this point and he’s a big part of what we do. Our PK numbers are good right now and he’s a big part of it on the back end and he’s willing to do all the little things like block shots which don’t show up on the scoreboard. He’s a glue guy. You need about four or five guys just like Hammer.”
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).
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