Travis Hamonic is reliving a piece of his childhood as the Islanders prepare to host Winnipeg Thursday night. The 22-year-old Islanders defenseman was 6 when his hometown Jets were relocated to Phoenix in 1996. Hamonic said it left his family -- and a hockey-loving province of Manitoba -- distraught for years.
The Jets were reincarnated this season when the Atlanta Thrashers were sold to a group that moved the franchise to Winnipeg. "Myself, personally, I'm pretty excited right now,'' Hamonic said of the impending matchup. "Keith Tkachuk was my favorite player, I loved him.''
Then, suddenly, his player and his team vanished. "I remember being at the Jets' rally , not really understanding,'' he said.
Given the Islanders' precarious long-term situation on Long Island, it almost sounded like a cautionary tale. "Obviously, the impact it had on the city of Winnipeg afterward," he said. "I didn't understand the magnitude, but I definitely started learning that as I got older. I had gone to a lot of games with my brother and dad. With my dad not being here, those are fond memories me and my brother have.''
Gerald Hamonic died of a heart attack at 44 when his son was 10 years old. Lisa Hamonic, Travis' mom, will be in the Coliseum tonight.
"As I grew up and started going to [minor-league] games you'd always hear, 'Go Jets, go Jets,' break out in the crowd somewhere. You realize what the team did mean to the city and how excited the fans were going to be if they ever had the opportunity to get the team back. Now they have that opportunity. As a life long Winnipegger, it's nice to see the fans and everyone get rewarded with getting a team back. It's a great community.''
Hamonic remained a fan of the Jets, even when they moved. "I remember going to a hockey tournament when I was eight years old and they had a Phoenix jersey up for silent auction,'' he said. "I was doing anything I possibly could to make sure that I got that jersey. I don't know if my dad won it, or outright bought it for me. I still got that back at home. Since dad isn't here anymore it's another special memory I have to cherish.''
Hamonic trusts Islanders fans will not suffer the fate his city once did, saying, "Right now our focus is to just play hockey games and we're all committed to Long Island. We love Long Island. We love being on Long Island and we have some of the best fans here.''
Notes & quotes: G Evgeni Nabokov (lower body injury) "is getting better,'' Jack Capuano said. He is day-to-day.