When defenseman Travis Hamonic steps onto the ice during the Islanders' rookie game in Boston Wednesday night, he'll be trying to catch the coach's eye, battling for a potential roster spot just like every other prospect there.
But while Hamonic is looking to impress in the days leading up to training camp, he'll do so with an intimate milestone in mind.
Ten years ago to the day, Hamonic's father, Gerald, passed away from a heart attack, leaving him without the person he called "his biggest supporter."
Despite the painful memories, Hamonic, 20, finds peace in the fact that he feels his father's presence particularly strong on those anniversaries.
"For the past four or five years - all throughout my junior career - I've always had a game on Sept. 15 and for some reason, they always seem to be some of my best games of the season," Hamonic said. "I think that's because he's watching over me. And I know he will be [today]."
Hamonic, the youngest of four children, was 10 years old at the time of his father's death. "I had to grow up fast and it forced me to become more mature," said Hamonic, who credits his mother, Lisa, for holding the family together during the difficult time.
Forging through such adversity at a young age was a tough lesson for Hamonic, but an invaluable one. He carried that with him this past year, when he was abruptly uprooted from his beloved junior team, the WHL's Moose Jaw Warriors, and traded to the Brandon Wheat Kings in the middle of the season. He summoned that strength again when his time with Team Canada at the World Juniors was cut short by a shoulder injury.
"Throughout my whole career, there has been a lot of adversity," Hamonic said, "but that's what tests you and builds your character."
And although Hamonic, a physical, puck-moving defenseman, is regarded as a top prospect, he's entering camp with the numbers against him. The Islanders, who made a concerted effort to bolster their defense this summer, have eight defensemen on one-way contracts.
"It's always an uphill battle whenever you're trying to crack an NHL roster," said Hamonic, a third-round pick in 2008. He will get his first shot at that Wednesday night, albeit with a heavy heart.
But Wednesday won't be just about a game. It's about all his family has been through the past 10 years and all they have to look forward to. "It's a big day for us," Hamonic said. "It's a sad day, but it also shows how far we've come with him watching over us."
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