Dougie Hamilton settling in at his new home
CALGARY, ALBERTA – “This was the big trade of the summer,” Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley said after the morning skate. “A 22-year-old kid moving to a [new] hockey market.”
Tonight Hartley’s Flames face off against Boston – the first meeting of the two since that blockbuster deal when the Bruins sent defenseman Dougie Hamilton to Calgary in exchange for the Flames’ No. 1 pick in last June’s Entry draft.
The first two months were a rocky start for Hamilton — and across the Calgary roster. At 9-14-2 and 20 points coming into Friday’s game, the Flames are tied with Edmonton for last in the Pacific Division and lowest point total in the Western Conference. They have picked it up a bit, playing at a .500 clip the last 10 games.
Last year was Calgary’s first postseason in a decade; one that dispatched division nemesis Vancouver in the first round before bowing to Anaheim in the second.
December becomes THE month for Hamilton and company. The team began the month with 13 of the next 18 at home – time to make some hay if they expect to get back to the playoffs come April.
That first game in December Tuesday night may be the one that provides the spark to re-ignite the Flames and continue Hamilton’s progress to a burgeoning star in Western Canada. That profile was filled with high expectations in his three years in Boston since being taken in the first round in 2011 — and signing a six-year, $34.5 million deal with the Flames after the trade.
“The adjustment is starting to take place,” Hartley said about Hamilton’s transition. “There’s expectations; there’s pressure. I thought Dougie handled this very well. We’re handling him the same as all of our younger players.”
Hamilton was a big part of Tuesday’s win.
Calgary spotted the Dallas Stars a three-goal lead before going into their patented come-from-behind mode; they had a league-best 24 such wins last season. Down by one with two minutes remaining, Hamilton tied the game en route to the Flames’ 4-3 OT win.
“The system’s a little different here about how they want us to play defense,” Hamilton said about his progress. “Maybe thinking too much at the beginning of the year, “where to be and what to do.”
On a roster that quietly boasts one of last season’s best D-corps in the league, led by Mark Giordano and former Bruin Dennis Wideman, Hamilton is expected to do just what he did in Boston — and Tuesday night. Put up meaningful points, play steady D — and add some presence on and off the ice.
The first two came easier for Hamilton in Boston than the third in the blockbuster trade that was criticized by many puck pundits — and based in rumors.
Rumors that Hamilton had yet to show that necessary snarl and locker room presence to make the transition to star-status in the NHL.
“There’s not really much to say [about the trade],” Hamilton said demurely but introspectively. “Kind of [disappointed]. But at the end of the day, people can say what they want. For me, I know the truth and who I am as a person. People who know me know that too. That’s what matters. There’s a transition where you go from Juniors where 16-year-olds hang out and go to movies; then you’re in the NHL and players go home to their families. It’s an adjustment.”
Hamilton led all Bruins defensemen last year with 42 points. In his first 25 games in Calgary — and fourth NHL season already — the 22-year-old is significantly off that pace with three goals and three assists for six total points – and a minus-six.
The team stats are even worse, which brings that December schedule into a clear and present challenge for the Flames as they face off with Hamilton’s former team tonight.
“Just trying to approach it like a normal game,” he smiled about the reunion, “but obviously it’s a little different facing your old team and friends. I think there’ll always be a little bit of Boston in me. You dream about putting on that jersey when you get drafted. When it changes so quick, it takes a while. I still like the B’s and guys on their team—hopefully not tonight. I’ve moved on.”
“We’re going to invest lots of time in [Dougie] because he’s a big part of today — and a big part of our future,” Hartley said.