Hamilton Gets Taste of Playoff Hockey
BOSTON, MA – Dougie Hamilton doesn't get phased by much.
When the 19-year-old made his NHL debut, he was as cool and collected as could be. When he traveled to Toronto to make his first appearance as an NHLer in the confines of Air Canada Centre this season, he didn't feel overwhelmed by the hoard of media around him. His nerves were rightfully there, yes, but his demeanor, as calm as ever.
So it was no surprise Saturday night, when he got the call to slot in with Andrew Ference serving his one game suspension from the league, that the young B's blueliner was still his usual even-keeled self.
"I think he’s handled his first NHL game extremely well, I wouldn’t see it being a problem if that was the case," said Coach Julien Saturday morning, when asked how Hamilton would handle his playoff debut, if he were to get inserted into the lineup.
Game time rolled around, and Hamilton was in the lineup and again paired with the veteran, Wade Redden, as he had been during the Bruins' pregame skate at TD Garden, and set to make his debut.
"I think with our whole team, all the defensemen that I’ve played with, make it a lot easier on me," said Hamilton prior to the game, on his blueliners helping him out. "With our whole team: starting with our goalie and defense, and forwards just helping us out, I think makes it easier on me, so I’m just trying to step in there."
Coach Julien had the confidence in his young defenseman's ability to adjust as well.
"He might be a young player for the playoffs, but to me, at this stage, the amount of games that he’s played, he’s a veteran," said Coach of Hamilton prior to the game. "We don’t look at guys, necessarily as rookies, we look at them as young players, but he’s a young player that’s going to be playing his first game [soon]. I think that’s the thing with him, he’s played enough hockey to understand what’s at stake here."
A consistent theme that began at the start of the season from the Bruins, mostly from Coach and Captain Zdeno Chara, was that they never considered their teammates "rookies," as so often referred to a first-year player in the NHL.
For Hamilton, he may have been a "rookie" in his first-ever playoff game at the NHL level, but he's not a stranger to high-pressure situations, having competed on many levels for Team Canada, including the World Junior Championship.
"I think I’ve played in a lot of big games - and this will just be another," he said.
But has he ever had to make the jump to a higher level?
"Playing in the NHL," he smiled. Calm, cool, collected - it may be cliche but it describes the young defenseman well.
Hamilton has had the privilege of parents who are used to high-pressure situations as well.
His father, Doug, won a bronze medal for Canada in rowing at the 1984 Olympics and a gold medal at the 1985 World Championship. His mother, Lynn, played on Canada's fourth-place women's basketball team in 1984 and earned bronze at the World Championship 1986.
"I think you can kind of just see that from them," he said. "They’re both really humble people, and obviously played in some pretty big games. They just tell me to go out and have fun and play your best, and that’s all you can do."
Tyler Seguin has been in Hamilton's positions before, making his postseason debut during the 2011 run.
"He told me to go out and have fun and that it’s a different game out there," Hamilton said of Seguin's, who also kept it light, joking with the defenseman. "He said, ‘If you do what I did, you’ll be fine. Just get six points in two games.'"
"I don’t think that will happen, but I just want to come in and do my best."
Though Hamilton adjusted to his first NHL postseason game, the Bruins collectively did not get the result that they wanted, falling 4-2 to Toronto, with the series drawing even at 1-1, and Boston heading on the road.
Toronto came out faster and harder, clearly having made adjustments after their underperformance in the first game of the series. However, despite the Leafs constant offensive pressure, Hamilton did not look out of place.
“I think I felt good,” said the rookie, who registered two hits in 13:32 of ice time. “I think the first period I was a little bit nervous. I haven’t played a game in a while, but [I] felt better after that. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the win.”
“Dougie played a solid game and he did what he had to do,” added B’s Head Coach Claude Julien following the game.
Hamilton was not on the ice for any of the Maple Leafs’ four goals, and didn’t think the Bruins were too overwhelmed by the Leafs forechecking pressure. The problem, he said, was the defensive breakdowns in other areas of the ice.
“I think they had a few shifts where they were on us a little bit,” explained Hamilton. “But I think just off the rushes and breakdowns and stuff like, that is where they got their chances. I don’t think they were pressuring us too hard on the forecheck or anything.
“I think if we maybe scored a few more goals early, I think we could’ve gotten the crowd into it a little bit more. But [it was] definitely more intense, just with how everyone is acting after the whistles and finishing checks and things like that.”
With Ference most likely returning to the lineup in Game 3, Hamilton may find himself as a healthy scratch again. But, No. 27 still acknowledged that the Bruins must improve on Monday night if they want to take back the lead in the series.
And growing up as a Maple Leafs fan – Hamilton made his way to a few Toronto playoff games back in the day – he knows how pumped the building will be for its first postseason game since 2004.
“That’ll be really cool, I think,” said Hamilton of the atmosphere at Air Canada Centre for Game 3. “I remember going to playoff games as a kid and I know the fans are pretty good in Toronto. I’m sure it’ll be a really good atmosphere.
“I think we need to obviously get better than that and go over there and play a good road game and try to get the lead in the series.”
Hamilton started the game playing alongside Redden, who said after the loss that the Bruins must get off to a quick start in Game 3 and quiet the Toronto faithful, who have not seen a home playoff game since 2004.
“I’m sure it’s going to be a lot of energy and a lot of noise,” said Redden. “They’ll be going back on a high, so we’ve got to come out with a good start, take the crowd out of it, and have a strong game.”
Julien said the Bruins must block out all the noise and focus on getting their game back to where it was in the first game of the series.
“Well no doubt, I mean if you’re Toronto right now and you haven’t been in the playoffs for that long your fans have got to be excited over there,” said the B’s bench boss, when asked postgame if he thought the atmosphere in Toronto would be rocking.
“We know it’s going to be noisy and there’s going to be a lot of electricity in the air. And we have to face that. We’re the bad team coming in and what you’ve got to do is focus on your job and hopefully not let that kind of stuff throw you off your game.”