Islanders Prospect Q&A: Travis Hamonic, shutdown defenseman

If after yesterday's interview with Anders Lee you were among those in comments discussing the Islanders' targeting character players in the draft, let me tell you: You're going to like today's interview.

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Travis Hamonic this year added more scoring to his existing physical, shutdown role in Moose Jaw. He was lauded for his shutdown performance for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships before a shoulder injury :cough: check-from-behind :cough: knocked him out of the final. (One wonders, how would the final have been different if Hamonic had been on the ice against speedy U.S. forwards?) 

Considered a "late bloomer" (here's Chris Botta's piece on how the Isles selected him 53rd overall in 2008), you can find a good overview of what he's been through in this piece -- and when you click that second link, don't miss his fantastic quote at the end about what his late father's reaction would be to his making Team Canada.

Finally, you probably know that Hamonic was recently traded by the Moose Jaw Warriors (where he was co-captain) to the Brandon Wheat Kings, who are currently second in the WHL's East Division. That's big for when Hamonic returns from his injury: The Wheat Kings are not just a playoff threat, they're also this year's Memorial Cup host, which means Hamonic is guaranteed some very intense hockey in May.

I spoke with Hamonic about a range of topics, but I'm sorry to report he could not accept my offer of paid airfare to get him to join the Islanders roster right now. (Relax, I was going to charge it to Chickendirt's Mr. Underhill's AmEx.) Our Q&A, edited for flow and brevity (Me? Brief? Never.), is after the jump.

'I Get More of a Thrill from Shutting Them Down'

 

Lighthouse Hockey: I know this has to be disappointing, but how's the injury rehab going?

Travis Hamonic: You know, it is what it is. If it didn't happen to me, it would have happened to someone else. But rehab is going fine. Hopefully better than expected so I can get back a little sooner. But I try to look at the time off as a chance to maybe recharge my batteries a little bit before I get back to help the team.

Despite the injury keeping you from playing in the gold medal game, you decided to be on the bench in uniform. I assume you don't regret that decision one bit.

In all honesty, the team gave me that choice, and there was no way I was going to pass it up. I knew it was the last time I'd have the opportunity to be in the World Junior Championship, and being on the bench with the guys meant the world to me. The whole tournament, the work we put in, changing my role to fit what we needed, I just wanted to do whatever I could to help.

They didn't let me wear shoulder pads on the bench though; I think they were worried that I might jump out there. And I probably would have.

Editor's Note: How great is that? I can hear the announcer now: "Is that ... no ... is that Travis Hamonic's song?!"

Have the Islanders been in touch about your injury?

Yeah, they were on the phones right away. I'm already getting good treatment here, but they'll have their docs look at me, too. It's just good to get as many opinions as possible and get the best care you can. Whether it's injuries or my trade or anything else, in my one-and-a-half years in the organization the Islanders have been first-class all the way.

Speaking of the trade, how excited are you about going to the Wheat Kings?

Very. I thought something would happen, but you never know how it will work out. But this is just one-and-a-half hours away from my home -- really, it's as close to home as I could possibly play -- so that's exciting. There are great guys on this team, and the team is really good. It's great to have the chance to contend, and obviously with us hosting the Memorial Cup it's a great opportunity.

So you had some idea the trade was coming?

I had heard some things from people, but you never know.

Sounds like it worked out.

Everyone's been very welcoming here, I'm loving it so far. And I'm just, I'm very grateful to Brandon for believing in me, and I'm very grateful to Moose Jaw for giving me the chance. It's been sort of an up and down year there, and this is my first experience with being traded, but I think both teams got what they wanted out of the trade. So I'm happy.

Editor's Note: I think I safely speak for most here in saying I hope Hamonic never experiences being traded again.


'You Can't Beat the Opportunity to Play for the Memorial Cup'

You probably know that a lot of Islanders fans are hopeful for the future and thinking about your place in it. Before the injury and trade to a playoff team, many were hoping you might get another taste in Bridgeport at the end of this season. Was that kind of thing on your mind at all, or do you more focus on what's right in front of you?

I got to taste the American League last year, and even though I didn't play in games, that was an amazing experience. But I know my time in the pros will come soon enough.

Right now, you can't beat the opportunity to play for the Memorial Cup. So much I can learn from that experience. So I'm excited about that. After all I've learned in juniors, it's great to have an opportunity to hopefully have a storybook ending to my career like that. But there's a lot of work left to do; we'll have to work our butts off.

Speaking of your pro experience, do you have any favorite memories or mentors from last summer's camp?

Of course all the veterans helped me out a lot. Bruno Gervais, my roommate in training camp, he's just a great guy, a great teammate. He actually called to check on me after I got hurt. They all helped a lot, off-ice more than anything. Brendan Witt, Andy Sutton ... Freddy Meyer was my roommate for the road trip. They're a great group.

And the reception from fans, they have been more than great.

Fans have also noticed that you're scoring picked up this year. Is that a goal the Islanders asked you to work on, or something you personally wanted to do, or has it just evolved?

The Islanders just want me to try to be a dominant player, period. The scoring, that's part of it, but I've had a lot of help from my teammates. I just wanted to round out my play this year and prove I could be a complete player. Prove I could put the puck in the net, complete a hit, fight, be a shutdown guy, do it all...

On that note, which do you enjoy more: Scoring a goal or delivering a big hit?

{laughs} I'll choose a different option and say I like shutting down the other team's top player the most. That's something I take pride in. If I can look at the scoresheet after a game and see I'm +1 and he's a minus or even, then I know I've done my job and probably frustrated him, too. I get more of a thrill from shutting them down.

[Editor's Note: Travis has no idea how happy he made Isles fans just now.]

Finally, did you have a favorite NHL player, or do you have one who you model your game after?

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When I was younger, my favorite player was Keith Tkachuk, with the Winnipeg Jets. As time's gone on, my game's kind of become the opposite of his {laughs}. As far as the Islanders right now, I mean Brendan Witt plays hard, he plays honest, I really respect how he approaches the game...

[Editor's Note: That's right, Philly SUV drivers. You've been warned: There's more where that came from.]

... and a guy like Shea Weber, who plays in all situations. penalty kill, powerplay, is responsible in his own zone, puts the puck on net. But it's really about having that will to win and do whatever you need to do. In the end I just want to be Travis Hamonic. I want to be my own player in the NHL.

*  *  *

Here's hoping he gets his wish.

Thanks again to the Wheat Kings and to Travis for his time and thoughtful answers. Readers: Another solid kid, eh?

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