If there had been any question about Travis Hamonic getting up to speed after an apparent knee injury jeopardized his playoffs, he answered that in the first period Saturday when he caught Nikita Kucherov from behind and flicked the puck away with his stick. You do not see that every day: a physical defenseman overtaking a swift forward.
That the Lightning scored soon after that, and eventually won the game, 4-1, did not take away from what that play represented. It reinforced the notion that the Islanders might not have made it to the second round without Hamonic. It reminded the multi-skilled defenseman’s team how lucky it is to have him, for as long as it still does.
Fact is, if you are listing the most valuable Islanders, once you get past John Tavares, Hamonic’s name is going to come up in a hurry. Who knows where he eventually will land, considering that he did request a trade for personal reasons? That is a matter for June, probably. For now, he, the Islanders and the playoffs are in a situation that he finds totally harmonic.
“It’s awesome. You play — how long is the season, seven months? — to have the opportunity to do this,” he said after a lively practice yesterday at Iceworks in preparation for Game 3 at Barclays Center on Tuesday night. “It’s not every day you get to play some playoff hockey. It’s fun. You get to hit people. The intensity is there. You have a chance to play for something pretty cool. So it’s enjoyable for sure.”
Up until a few hours before Game 1 of the Panthers series, it was not official that Hamonic was going to get in on the fun. When he was injured near the end of the regular season, the team and its fans had a here-we-go- again moment, reflecting on having to face Washington last postseason without his seemingly constant presence on the ice. A case can be made that a taut seven-game series might have tilted the Islanders’ way had their valuable two-way defenseman not been injured.
“To me, it goes back to what you saw in the series against Pittsburgh three years ago,” Jack Capuano said. “He’s a physical guy, he can play against top players. We need more of our ‘D,’ quite honestly, to step their game up and be a little more physical, especially around our goaltender.”
Said Tavares, “His all-around game, his size, his mobility, his ability to play in all situations; it’s very impressive. You can’t just find those guys.”
You don’t find many guys like Hamonic, who can cut to the chase verbally as well as he did physically on the play against the Lightning. Others praise the Islanders’ captain, but Hamonic put it bluntly last series when he was asked about Tavares and said, “Best player in the league.”
Hamonic can be expansive when he wants to be. He deservedly drew national attention last season for his effort to spend time after every home game, win or lose, with youngsters who had lost parents. He speaks to them from the depth of a 25-year-old man who grew up fast after having been a 10-year-old when his father, Gerald, died of a massive heart attack.
The kid threw his heart into hockey back then. He still does every time he goes on the ice, especially at this time of year.
“There’s a lot of intensity,” he said. “I think when you have competitive people put in one spot, with one puck and a chance to win a pretty cool trophy, I think that’s going to make everyone get pretty competitive. Even the second round from the first round, you can tell there is a difference.”
He will not talk about the personal matters that prompted him to ask for a trade to a team closer to home in Manitoba. It is not personal against the Islanders, though. You could see that in the emotions that nearly made him shake after the franchise that drafted him in 2008 finally won a playoff series.
While he is here, he is all in. When, or if, he is gone, they sure are going to miss him. You can’t just find guys like Hamonic.