This was a special night in many ways for Travis Hamonic.
Making his debut with the Ottawa Senators as the club faced the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday at the Canada Life Center, the 31-year-old veteran defenseman marked a milestone by suiting up for game No. 700 of his career.
Dealt to the Senators by the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL draft, Hamonic met his new teammates at the hotel in Winnipeg on Wednesday and took a quick skate Thursday to prepare.
Hamonic sounded like someone looking forward to a fresh start after a difficult season with the Canucks.
“I’m thrilled. I’m really excited,” Hamonic told reporters in Winnipeg before the game. “It’s a whole new opportunity, a new group of guys so it brings in a ton of emotion. There’s some excitement and some nerves.
“It’s been a busy couple of days to say the least but I’ve got an amazing support system around me.”
A big reason Hamonic is with the Senators is the presence of associate coach Jack Capuano on the staff. They have a long-standing relationship after spending seven years together with the New York Islanders.
Hamonic was a second-round pick in 2008 and was an alternate captain with the Islanders.
“I have an unbelievable relationship with (Capuano). It goes back a long time now. He’s someone, between Jack and (former GM) Garth Snow, they really gave me my opportunity and stuck with me the whole time,” Hamonic said.
“I’ve got nothing but good things to say about Garth and Cappy as well. Those are relationships I forged early on in my career that I’ve always kept and appreciated. That was what was unique with the Islanders, it was a pretty young team and we all came together.
“From the outside looking in watching the Senators, you can see the young nucleus here and have those same feelings. You can see in the locker room how tight-knit this group is and that’s what organizations want their room to be.”
The Senators don’t need Hamonic to be a saviour, they just need him to be steady in his own end by getting the puck out and making sure it’s not easy for the opposition to get to the net.
He started in the third pairing with Michael Del Zotto against the Jets, but down the road the Senators saw an opportunity for him to help the club’s young blueliners, including top prospect Jake Sanderson.
Joining the Senators at this juncture of the season will allow him to get a feel for what this team has come into training camp in September.
“You just come in with eyes and ears open and your mouth shut,” Hamonic said. “You see how this team goes about its business and then you integrate yourself to see where you can fit in and spot in.
“That (leadership) will build naturally. That’s probably the best way.”
Before the deal was completed, Hamonic spoke with Senators GM Pierre Dorion, coach DJ Smith and Capuano to hear what they had to say about the direction of this team. I liked what I heard.
“I’m really excited to join a young group of guys,” Hamonic said. “Last year, with the unique scheduling, we played these guys maybe eight times, but you saw how hard the coaching staff had the players work.
“Those games were difficult and they gave a lot of teams last year a lot of trouble. It’s from their work ethic and their tenacity. As a defenseman playing against them, you know they were coming at you in waves. That’s difficult when you’re trying to make plays under pressure.
“They’ve got some guys up front that are really skilled, guys on the back end that can move the puck. I’m just trying to fit in whatever role I can with the coaching staff and just try to do what I can do. I’m excited to wear this jersey and get back to Ottawa and wear it there as well.”
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Hamonic didn’t want to miss this one because there was lots of family and friend in the stands excited to see him suit up. The expectation was the club would scratch Victor Mete and replace him with Hamonic.
“It’s always a thrill when I get a chance to come back and play in Manitoba,” he said. “I’m extremely proud to be from Manitoba and a lot of people who have known me throughout the years know that.
“Whenever I get to play a game here it’s special. With no fans in the building last year, it was a unique situation so that felt like a bit of a blur. It’ll be a nice to be back and the first game (with Ottawa) means a lot to me. I’m looking forward to the challenge and the opportunity and I’m grateful for the chance.
“Seven-hundred games is pretty cool. You want to play as many games as you can and you realize every game you play in this league is a blessing.”
Hamonic is hoping his experience can help the Senators.