Well-travelled journeyman sets up game-winner for Edmonton Oilers' split-squad in Calgary
Hamilton is a player with a big body who can kill penalties and has a knack around the net
CALGARY — There were no stop signs on Sam Gagner’s road to the National Hockey League. He played his first game a month or so after turning 18.
But some roads to the NHL are harder than others — more detours, more construction work, more proceed with caution signs along the way. Like former Toronto Marlies captain Ryan Hamilton’s often-times tortuous health journey to where he was Saturday, on Gagner’s left wing with an Edmonton Oilers' split-squad.
Hamilton is 28 years old and has played 12 NHL league games, about 400 behind Gagner. He’s a load at six-foot-two and 230 pounds, but is still trying to find regular employment.
On Saturday, he was showing what he could do with Gagner and Jordan Eberle against a Calgary Flames’ split-squad. It wasn’t a bad place for the left-winger to start.
Hamilton was the Marlies’ captain for Dallas Eakins in the American Hockey League, so obviously, there is some trust there with the Oilers’ new head coach. It may also have been a reward for time served in the minors.
“His personality and character is second to none,” said Eakins. “If I can raise my daughters to have the same character as Ryan Hamilton, I’ve done a helluva job. But hockeywise, there’s no quit in Ryan. He’s always coming back for more.
“He’s an excellent penalty-killer and he has a great knack around the net. He had 30 goals last year in the American League. That’s not a bad thing,”
Hamilton didn’t score in the Oilers’ 3-2 victory at the Scotiabank Saddledome, but he set up the winner by Martin Marincin with five minutes left. His shot was stopped by Calgary backup goalie Toni Ortio and the defenceman raced in to bury the puck.
Ryan Jones (tip-in of a Jeff Petry power-play shot) and David Perron (25-footer off a nice Taylor Fedun feed) got the other Oilers’ goals. Calgary’s first-round draft forward Emile Poirier (scramble) and Mike Cammalleri (tap-in after Oilers goalie Richard Bachman couldn’t play the puck outside the trapezoid and Matt Stajan beat Philip Larsen to the loose puck) scored for Calgary.
Both of the Flames’ goals were on Bachman, with backup goalie Jason LaBarbera pitching a 12-shot shutout over the first 30 minutes.
Hamilton was noticeable most of the night, with three shots and two hits.
“He brings some size to the picture … and that’s well-needed as has been determined here,” said Eberle.
“He’s a heavy body who provides some tenacious forechecking. He is a presence in front of the net … and he and (fellow Marlie) Will Acton did a nice job on the penalty-kill,” said Oklahoma City head coach Todd Nelson, who handled the Oilers’ bench.
Anderson is the ultimate late-bloomer. He was undrafted, spent years and years of riding buses through minor-league stops, has had lots of injuries along the way, but continues to dig in. He got 10 late-season games with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season, so maybe the NHL door has cracked open just a bit.
For sure, the Oilers, who have speed and skill to burn, need a big body who can work the corners and get the puck around the net. If he can keep up with the racehorse NHL speed, he might make the team.
The key for Hamilton might be staying in one piece. Admittedly, he’s been in far too many doctor’s offices.
Hamilton says he’s never thrown up his hands and felt like getting a different job, even though his road has been rockier than most.
“You know what? I guess I’m stubborn or I try not to let it creep into my mind. Obviously, I’ve battled injuries,” he said. “But, it’s all about the process, all about the ride. Obviously, you wish you could get in there sooner, but there’s no complaints.”
He’s not envious of the Taylor Halls and Eberles and Gagners.
“They’re world-class players, they’re fun to watch,” he said. “Me? I played with Joel Ward in the minors in Houston and saw how his career blossomed in the NHL at a later age. He’s an example for me. You hope for something like that. You keep grinding away. I enjoy working my butt off and trying to get better every season.”
About those injuries, get out the chart.
“I had heart surgery (irregular heartbeat) where they go in through an artery one year,” he said. “I had knee surgery another year. In junior I had mono a whole year. I had a broken sternum.”
He also fell into a glass stanchion with the Marlies and, as former teammate James Reimer says, “ripped half of his face off. There were stitches everywhere, but he kept playing.”
The heart problem “caught his attention.”
“Puts things in perspective. Obviously, there’s been some tragedies (Alexei Cherepanov died in Russia during a game). Anytime somebody complains about a heart-rate, you take it very seriously, but I had the procedure done and they fixed it.”
He’ll get lots of chances during the pre-season to make the Oilers as a complimentary piece to the smaller forwards.
“I’ve always gone to the net, banging away. That’s where I usually get my goals,” he said.
He was a 30-goal in the AHL, but could that translate to the big league? He was a role player with the Leafs.
“I was on the third or fourth line. I have no trouble being a checker or a banger,” he said. “Whatever it takes.”
Time is not on Hamilton’s side.
For Nelson, Saturday’s win was his first this season while running the bench after three losses at the Young Stars tournament at Penticton, B.C., and a 4-3 exhibition loss to the University of Alberta Golden Bears.
“I got a text from (general manager) Craig MacTavish. He said, ‘About time,’ ” said Nelson.
“I asked Jonesy (Ryan Jones) if I was getting the game puck,” he added as a joke.
ON THE BENCH: Fedun had an excellent game on the Oilers’ back end, playing with Nick Schultz. He had two assists in almost 20 minutes of work. Fedun is a longshot to make the team because he’s got a two-way contract, but he looks much more comfortable with the puck than he did the training camp where he broke his ankle in 2011 … The best Oilers line by lots was Boyd Gordon with Jones and Perron … Ex-Oil Kings centre Travis Ewanyk had a brief second-period scrap.
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