REGINA — Travis Hamonic had a great seat to watch the start of Canada’s streak of world junior gold medals.
Five years ago in Grand Forks, N.D., Hamonic was in the stands. When Canada looks for its sixth straight IIHF world junior hockey championship, the Moose Jaw Warriors defenceman will be on the ice.
“I remember just dreaming about the day when I might have a chance,” said Hamonic. “I was only a 15-year-old kid at the time and I thought it was probably pretty far down the road and maybe not possible, but you realize anything is possible and I thank God for that. He’s a big part of my life.”
Hamonic was one of the final cuts from last year’s team, but was determined to make the 22-man roster in his final year of eligibility.
That dream came true Wednesday when he and his roommate Jared Cowen were awoken by Hockey Canada head scout Al Murray, who knocked on their door and told them they had both made the team. Within seconds, Hamonic’s older brother Jesse called him to congratulate him.
“The first phone call I placed was to my mom,” said Hamonic.
“She started crying actually. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs together in my hockey career. Obviously with the way things played out last year was definitely tough on me and for her to see me in that position. But everything works out for the best.”
It’s hasn’t been an easy road for the 19-year-old St. Malo, Man., product.
Hamonic has fond memories of the 1999 tournament held in Winnipeg. He was nine at the time and attended the tournament with his father Gerald. Less than two years later his father died on the family farm.
“My dad was really proud of me and I know he’s going to be watching,” said Hamonic.
“If he could be here I know he’d be the first person in the stands, but I know he’s proud of me.”
It’s been a long journey to becoming an elite hockey player for Hamonic. When Canada won gold in Grand Forks, he was months away from being drafted by the Warriors in the ninth round of the WHL bantam draft, 162nd overall. The other two WHL defencemen on the Canadian junior team — Cowen and Colten Teubert — were each taken first overall in the bantam draft.
“It’s one of those things you dream about and wonder how it’s going to feel when it finally happens,” said Hamonic. “When it does it’s joyful . . . you realize all of the hard years of work you put in to finally get to this position.”
After speaking to his family, Hamonic’s thoughts turned to all of the people who helped him get to this point in his career from his billets to coaches, teammates, family, friends and even fans who have helped him live his dream.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Hamonic. “I’m pretty speechless. I’m soaking it all in and it’s a little surreal right now.
“There was a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication put into everything I’ve done and at the end of the day I’m just proud and excited.”
Wearing a red Canada jersey with his familiar No. 3 Hamonic didn’t even try to hide a wide smile after the team photo was taken at the Brandt Centre. The scene couldn’t have been more different a year ago. Hamonic returned home after being cut in Ottawa without his luggage or equipment and sat disconsolate in a cold Civic Centre watching the Warriors practice.
“I learned a lot from that and I think I’m better for it — a better person as well as a player,” said Hamonic.
After coming so close last year, the Hockey Canada brass were impressed by the work he put in to become a better player.
“Travis was the last cut last year, basically,” said Al Murray. “He went right down to the wire and took that experience and stepped his game in all areas this year, but especially his offensive play. He’s always been a solid defensive player and a guy you can rely on. That would have been almost enough to put him on the team last year. When he added in that offensive component this year there was no question he was going to be one of our defencemen.”
Hamonic has become one of the best offensive defencemen in junior hockey, scoring 10 goals and adding 29 assists in 31 games this season. Murray said that the special team roles will develop in the next week after some of the pre-competition games are played, but Hamonic’s primary responsibility will be defensive.
“His role first and foremost will be a shutdown role playing against the best players on the other time,” said Murray. “We’ve got some players that do some things very well — his being shutting down (other players), being physical and making life miserable for good players on the other teams.”
Hamonic — who is 6-2 and 215 pounds — is willing to do whatever Team Canada asks of him.
“Wherever I do fit in I’m just going to be happy with a smile on my face,” said Hamonic. “There’s a lot of great players at a lot of positions. Whether I get thrown into some power play stuff or strictly penalty kill — if they ask me to fill the water bottles I’ll do that too. I’m just grateful and glad to be here.
“Whatever they want from me that’s what they’re going to get.”
Matthew Gourlie is the WHL beat writer for the Moose Jaw Times-Herald