BostonBruins.com - Dougie Hamilton just turned the page on his first calendar year in the NHL. The year brought many new experiences for the 20-year-old - his NHL debut, first goal, his first postseason, and, his first injury bout.
It was a short-term injury battle that caused him to miss 10 games, after he first sustained the lower-body injury in Toronto on December 8. He was set to make his return to the lineup against Nashville on Thursday night (January 2).
Hamilton had experienced time as a healthy scratch during the 2013 playoffs. And when he was with the Ontario Hockey League's Niagara Ice Dogs, he spent 10 games out of the lineup due to suspension.
But this was the first time he was ever forced out of the lineup due to inability. Sidelined for the past three and a half weeks, it was a new progression for the defenseman, who had to leave the team on their Canada road trip.
"I just want to start simple and kind of go with it," said Hamilton, prior to getting back into game action after the hiatus. "And I'm not really worried about how much I play or anything like that, so hopefully I can play well and earn ice time."
"I feel good right now with my body and everything. Just working out with Whitey [Strength and Conditioning Coach John Whitesides], just with two weeks of workouts and you're already feeling stronger," said the blueliner.
"For me, just try to get back to how I was playing, and hopefully it will be right away instead of [taking] a few games."
It was a challenging month of December for the Bruins' back end, with Adam McQuaid out for a sustained time, Johnny Boychuk's scare in Montreal, Hamilton's injury, and Dennis Seidenberg's season-ending ACL/MCL tear in his knee. Not to mention, the plenty of bumps and bruises along the way, and a brief injury to Zdeno Chara that caused him to miss the game in Ottawa on December 28.
Heading into the game against Nashville on January 2, Torey Krug was the only defenseman to have played all 40 games this season.
Now, with the loss of Seidenberg, the Bruins' focus is on staying the course and each player sticking to his role.
"I think for me, right now, just worry about playing and obviously can’t put too much pressure on yourself to fill a role like his," said Hamilton. "Just to be able to play, I think I’ll be happy and then once I get settled in, I’ll try to make up for him a little bit. I guess our whole defense has been used to guys being out of the lineup and stepping up, so I don’t think it will be too bad of a thing."
The defenseman was hoping the settling in part wouldn't take too long. He's felt his progression throughout the past few weeks, and is crossing another emotional hurdle in his NHL experience upon his return to game action.
"It's pretty boring I'd say; but I think just wanted to play now and get back into it, and get back with the team, feel like you're part of the team again," Hamilton had said, upon joining the team for practice for the first time since the injury on December 30.
"I’ve never had something like this before. I guess the nagging stuff you just kind of play through, so this is different. I think the whole experience I’ve gone through in the last three weeks is all new and a learning experience that is part of the game."
Before making his return, Hamilton experienced two days of contact back with the team. He's anxious to get back into the competitive aspect of the game, but will he be dropping the gloves his first shift back like Adam McQuaid did in his return to the lineup in Nashville?
"No," smiled Hamilton. Well, you can never know for sure...
Now, looking back on the experience, Hamilton is even more grateful to the Bruins' training and medical staff, who have had a very, very busy past month.
"It’s something I think you don’t really see too much until you get hurt," said Hamilton.
The first couple of days after returning to Boston with the injury and being evaluated, the defenseman realized the extra work the recovery takes, icing all day, doing upper body workouts to stay in shape, and riding the bike.
"It’s just adding stuff every day, I think that’s what the biggest thing is. I think the first time I skated, it didn’t feel good taking a stride every time and then the next day, it felt better. I was able to add shooting in and pivoting and stuff like that. So it just feels good that every day it gets better and you can add things to it."
"When you’re hurt, it’s just a whole different thing," Hamilton said, of the support from the staff. "I think just with Whitey and him trying to push you to get back and then the trainers trying to do everything they can to get you back as soon as you can, and for me, I just said ‘I trust you guys and I’m willing to do whatever you say.’ And that’s what I’ve done."
The support from teammates helps as well, no matter how minor or major an injury. Back on December 22, as the team's practice was wrapping up, Hamilton was given he go-ahead to join Coach Whitesides at the other end of the ice for a skate. As soon as the blueliner hit the ice, the Bruins started a round of stick taps.
The Black & Gold stay even-keeled amidst injuries, and usually find ways to battle adversity, but there's no doubt they also get a morale boost when teammates return.
"Just with the guys with concussions like Piesy and Loui's looking good too - all of those guys when they come back, and they're looking good, it's good," Hamilton had said, as the B's injury bug started to turn a corner. "And Quaider, he missed a lot, he's back into it right now."
"So I think you just learn from them, and do your best to come back like they did."
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