This past Wednesday I had the privilege of catching up with Travis Hamonic, the Isles 53rd overall selection in the 2nd round of the 2008 NHL entry draft. He is currently playing for the Moose Jaw Warriors in the WHL up in Canada. Right now he leads the league in scoring as a defenseman. He’s played in 15 games, scoring 7 goals, 13 assists, and is a +3 with 23 PIMs. I thought I’d ask him a couple of questions with the way he has played so far with Moose Jaw and when he thinks he’ll be ready to suit up in an Islanders uniform.
After laughing a bit over me forgetting about the time-zone difference, we got started talking about hockey.
So how has your season been going for you so far with the Moose Jaw Warriors?
It’s been going pretty good. I think we caught a lot of teams by surprise, but I don’t think that we surprised ourselves. We knew what we wanted to get done and what we wanted to try to do this year and I think we’ve came out and for the most part we’ve done it. We’ve been at the top of the standings and its fun when you’re winning. It makes coming to the rink everyday fun and enjoyable. Me, personally, I’ve been doing really well. I’m putting up numbers offensively and I think at the same time I’m making sure that my game is getting better every day defensively too.
Many scouts had you touted as a stay-at-home defenseman when the Islanders drafted you, but like you've said you have been contributing much more offensively. What changes have you made to your game in order to score more from the blue-line?
You know I don’t think that I’ve really changed a whole lot. I think that different parts of my game have maybe developed; that would be probably the best way to put it. I worked on my shot a lot this summer and I’m the leading defenseman in scoring right now. But all of my goals have been coming from the blue-line: it’s a lot of power-play goals where it’s a one-timer from the point or I take a shot and someone’s just banging in the loose puck, or I make a good outlet pass on our breakout and we can score off the rush. If you look at my points I don’t think that they are really coming from me skating up and down the ice trying to do it all. I’m still keeping my game solid and still doing what I know how to do best and that’s play defensively. I’m trying to play in all key situations and the team has a lot of trust in me and they have a lot of expectations for me, as I do for myself. For me to go out every night and try to lead our team, no matter which way it is, whether it’s blocking a shot, making a hit, or scoring a goal…I’m going to do it.
Was that a goal of yours to become more relied upon for offense instead of just being a shut-down defenseman?
Yeah I think in a way it was. I want to be the best defenseman, and I don’t think you can ever be too good at one thing. I guess as much as I want to be working on my offensive game I want to make sure that my bread and butter, my defensive game, stays in -tact and keeps getting better every day. But at the end of the day there were some doubts from people that were saying that I couldn’t put up numbers and that I couldn’t do certain things on the ice. Well, I want to put those doubts to rest. I think that’s an attribute to my work ethic; how hard I’m going to work in order to prove people wrong. My whole life I’ve kind have been shoved aside a little bit, and for me to come on out and have a good start offensively, I think it proves to people that I can be a two-way defenseman. I think you can never close the door to opportunities.
What do you think is the next step that you need to take in your development?
Well I think it’s the World Junior Championships. It’s coming up here in mid-December. Hopefully I’ve worked myself onto a roster spot. At the end of the day that’s all I can ask for, just to get an opportunity, and if I get an opportunity I’m going to make sure to make the best of it. To get a chance to do that would be huge. Here in Canada it’s one of the biggest things that we have in the season. To get a chance to play for a classy organization like Team Canada would be a dream come true. That being said, when you get an opportunity playing there, it's something that not a lot of kids get to do, and I think development wise you play with the best players in the world and you get a chance to play in a real big pressure situation. When you get that jump to the National Hockey League I think that’s the biggest thing: pressure. And I think if I can be exposed to that now as a 19-year old kid, I think I’ll be alright
You mentioned making the jump to the NHL. Being that this is your fourth year with the Warriors, where and when do you see yourself fitting in with the New York Islanders?
I think I see myself fitting in as early as next year. I think I have all the tools and all the basic necessities that I need to be an Islander. Through the last two training camps the coaching staff have instilled a lot of things in me, and a lot of systems and the way that they want the team to play, and the vision that they have…I got a lot of trust in the coaching staff there and the Islanders are going to move me along as fast they need to move me along. But from a personal stand point I think I’m ready next year. I think by the end of the season I will have accomplished everything I can in Juniors. That’s a challenge I want to take, and that’s a challenge I want to have every day, coming to the rink against NHL players.
Has the coaching staff in Moose Jaw been placing more responsibility on you now that you’ve emerged as a top scorer as well as a top defenseman?
Yeah, I think that more or less expectations have been coming on my shoulders, given my age and the fact that it’s my fourth year and the fact that I’m the team captain – I think that itself is why I’m getting all these expectations. And I hold myself accountable over anyone else. I make sure that I’m off to the grind every day. My coaching staff; they’re not light on me. They’re always over me, watching every move, and that’s the way I like it. I want to make sure I’m under the microscope because that means I can’t get away with anything. They do a great job with me here in Moose Jaw and I’m really grateful for my coaches. As far as teammates, they make sure they’re holding me accountable. Everyone’s working here for the same goal here in Moose Jaw, and if I can be a part of it that would be huge.
I’ve noticed that you’ve put on some size since you were drafted. How has that changed your style of play?
You know I always kind have laughed. I was always a smaller guy that always played pretty chippy. My draft year I was about 6-foot, 190 but I was still really rough around the edges. I fight. I make the big hit. I play really gritty. I play definitely bigger than my size. Over the last two years I’ve grown into about 6’2, 215 now is what I’m listed at. I don’t think that’s really changed a whole lot. I think now there’s just a little bit more muscle behind my body frame to push guys around. My game hasn’t changed. I will fight to get a team going or make a big hit. Just using the body. And I think for me with my size that’s something I’m going to have to make sure to bring with me to the next level, especially next year, whether it be with Bridgeport or the Islanders.
What was it like hearing that you were drafted by the New York Islanders back in 2008?
You know, (sigh), I still can’t think of the proper words to say it. It was a dream-come-true. I talked to the Islanders a bit before the draft and I kind of had my fingers crossed. I knew that they had a couple picks in the second round and that’s kind of where I was targeted to go. Watching the picks come through the computer, I had my fingers crossed every time. My Mom was actually the first one to find out. She had the computer in front of her and she saw it on the screen and sort of started yelling and crying and I came over in disbelief. As much as there was joy and excitement there to get drafted, believe me, it was even more of a joy to get drafted to a team like the Islanders. There’s a lot of history there and hopefully I’ll be a part of the turn around there on Long Island and become a championship team again. It would be huge.
What was Islanders training camp like over the summer? What were some of your first impressions?
It was not what I really expected for Long Island. Everyone has this idea in their heads that New York is this big city with big lights. I kind have got my eyes opened up to Long Island a little bit. I’m glad that I went down there and got to experience that. It’s pretty laid back with a small-town feeling. I grew up on a farm with in a small-town of 500 people so that kind of made me feel at home. You go to the beach, there’s Jones Beach. Places like that make you realize it’s just like California. It’s beautiful. It’s kind of the best of both worlds. If you want city life, you can, if you want the laid back, small-town life, you can too. That was a great opportunity for me to go down there and see that.
As for training camp…it went really well. I think I opened a lot of eyes to a lot of people and to get a chance to play in my first NHL exhibition game in Edmonton, out west here …it was a dream come true.
Did you get to skate with John Tavares?
Yeah I skated with John in previous World Junior camps. We got to skate through training camp together. He was actually roomed with Dougie Weight and I was roomed with Bruno Gervais so all four of us would drive to the rink together every morning. So I got to know John a little bit and he’s a great guy. He’s going to have a great year.
Did you get to talk a lot with Islanders Head Coach Scott Gordon or GM Garth Snow during camp about what they expect from you?
Yeah. I think being the younger guy coming in with all those veteran players, I think, Scott especially on the ice, was quick to point out anything that I needed to improve on, and rightfully so. I’m happy he did that because for me to become a player I need to learn. And between him and Garth they really want to make sure that I come along and I develop the proper way that I’m supposed to. From the little pointers to big pointers, everything that they did was really helpful. And I just appreciate it a lot because for them to take the time out of their day to make sure that I’m developing is a big honor. Scott was great with me. He helped me along through training camp and really calmed me down through tough situations and getting a chance to play under him will be huge for me.
Do you hear a lot regularly from Assistant GM Ryan Jankowski?
Yeah. He was actually at my game on Sunday night. Between him and Eric Cairns, I talk to them probably weekly. They’re on top of how I’m doing and I like it that way. I like when people are following my every step because it makes me hold myself accountable.
Who has been the most influential person so far in your hockey career?
Oh geez. Well I’d say my Dad. My Dad passed away when I was ten. So up until that day it was my father. He was always at the rink with me. Whether it be at the rink or the farm, he was not so much influential in hockey as he was in my life in making sure that I was a good man first before anything. From that day on it’s been my mom. She’s been my rock through the last ten years. She’s the first person I call with good, bad, or indifferent news and I know that she’s always been there for me and I know that she will. I’m lucky to have her.
Where did you grow up as a kid?
I grew up in St. Malo, Manitoba. It was a small town of about 500 people and I grew up on a farm; a little different than New York life.
What team did you grow up idolizing?
I was a big Winnipeg Jets fan. The Jets were still in town when I was there so I was a die-hard Jets fan.
Does that mean you follow the Coyotes at all?
You know what? No. After that I kind have went my separate way. I was pretty bitter at the time because they had finally left. I just really watched a lot of Canadian teams. A lot of Montreal and a lot of Toronto…just because those were the teams were on Hockey Night in Canada all the time. So for us in Manitoba, teams like Calgary, Edmonton… those were the teams that we got to see on TV two or three times a week.
If hockey didn’t work out for you, what other sport would you have chosen?
Looking back on it I don’t like to think about that. Hockey is my life and hockey is the only sport that I would have chosen. But I am a huge football fan. If hockey wouldn’t have worked out and I could have gone back I think would have gone to football. I like to hit guys and I like to make the big play and I think there’s a lot of pressure and a lot of spotlight in football and I think that’s something I think I would be really good at.
Do you have any pre-game rituals that you usually go through before stepping on the ice?
Yeah, there are a few pre-game things that I go through. It’s definitely not superstition or anything. I like to do things that make me feel comfortable; I go out and tape my stick the same way every game out in the hallway. Every time during O Canada I say a prayer. That’s for my dad to be able to watch and just to make sure that my head is in the right place before a game. Just to feel comfortable. If I can feel comfortable before going into a game that’s all I can ask for.
Lastly, do you ever get to catch any Islander games during the year?
Yeah, I’ve watched their last three games. The last two were against Montreal so we had it on RDS. I’m actually 100% French so I get to catch a lot of the French games. It’s fun; you realize how close you are but how much work you really have to put into it. It’s great, you can see the guys on TV that you got to know in training camp and you realize they’re just normal people like you. It’s fun.
For a young kid, Travis was very professional over the phone and sounded very confident in his ability to make it to the Islanders roster, possibly as soon as next year. It’s great to see that he’s emerged not only as an offensive threat, but as a leader as well. He seems like the type of player that Islander fans are dying to see on Nassau Coliseum ice.
If all continues to go well, we may not have to wait very long.