SUNRISE, Fla. — The very, very high likelihood, in Travis Hamonic’s words, became a certainty Thursday morning when the coach announced that the Islanders tireless defenseman would play Thursday night. It came as no shock to anyone familiar with the player who said, “It would take a lot to keep me out.”
His knee, injured on March 31, had caught up sufficiently with his outlook to convince Jack Capuano and the medical staff that Hamonic could play and help the Islanders beat the Panthers, 5-4, in Game 1. He played 24 minutes, 52 seconds and was plus-2.
It was both exhilarating and a relief for a player who generally leads the Islanders in ice time but who missed the playoffs last year with a more serious injury. Given that the Islanders lost a taut seven-game series with the Capitals, it is not a great stretch to think the outcome could have been different had he played.
“Last year is last year,” he said after the morning skate at BB&T Center. “I’m excited to be playing and I’m grateful that it wasn’t too bad. We’ve got some of the best medical guys and we’ve certainly been going at it pretty hard to make sure I’m ready to rock.”
There is no telling how many more games he will play in an Islanders jersey, given the request he made before the season — based on personal reasons — to be dealt to a team closer to his home in western Canada. But he never has held back all year and asserted he would be the same in the playoffs.
Capuano said before the game that he did not expect to take a relaxed approach to Hamonic’s playing time. “I’m not thinking about saving minutes for Game 2,” the coach said. “This is what you train all year for. Guys are in great shape.”
Hamonic had a taste of the postseason three years ago (averaging 24 minutes, 59 seconds) and wants to experience it again. “Everything is magnified, whether it’s every shift or every goal or every opportunity, whatever it is. It’s a race to four games. Obviously there is something pretty amazing waiting for you at the end of it all,” he said. “Hockey players by nature are very, very competitive and when you get a bunch of guys together, vying for one thing, that makes for some pretty good entertainment, I’m sure, for a lot of people.
“You appreciate the opportunity to be a part of it. You don’t know how often this comes along in your career, where you have an opportunity to make some noise.”