GARRIOCH: The Hamburglar’s return brings back great memories for Rick Wamsley


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If the stars align, The Hamburglar will return to the scene of the greatest heist of his hockey career Saturday night at the Canadian Tire Centre.

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Andrew Hammond, who led the Senators on a Cinderella run to the playoffs during the spring of 2015, could make the start for the Montreal Canadiens as the two teams face off for the first time this season on Hockey Night in Canada.

The 34-year-old Hammond, dealt to the Habs while playing for the Minnesota Wild’s farm team in Iowa, earlier this month, made 30 saves in a 3-2 shootout victory over the New York Islanders last Saturday for his first NHL win in nearly four years.

Nobody in Ottawa will ever forget Hammond’s incredible 20-1-2 record, with a 1.98 goals-against average and a save percentage of .941 as he led the Senators from last place in the East to a berth in the first-round of playoffs with a victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on the final day of the season.

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“It was the best story I’ve ever been involved with for a lot of reasons,” former Senators’ goalie coach Rick Wamsley told Postmedia Thursday. “If you remember that year, it was just an awful year for a lot of reasons.”

Head coach Paul MacLean was fired Dec. 8 by general manager Bryan Murray with the club off to a 11-11-5 start and assistant Dave Cameron took over. Assistant Mark Reeds was diagnosed with cancer midway through the campaign and passed away on Apr. 15 just before the playoffs started.

The decision to go to Hammond and his fairytale run only happened because the Senators were left with no other choice. Starter Craig Anderson was out with a hand injury and backup Robin Lehner left the club’s 6-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at home on Feb. 16, 2015 late in the second after suffering a concussion.

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Winger Clarke MacArthur also suffered a head injury on the play when he was run over along with Lehner as Carolina’s Jay McClement went to the net.

Wamsley actually wanted Hammond to start that game as a reward for working hard while acting as the backup to Lehner but couldn’t convince Cameron to make the move

“Robin’s play was kind of up and down, he’d win one and lose one, so I went to Dave Cameron before the Carolina game and I said, ‘Hey, why don’t we start Hammy, you know, just give him a start’,” Wamsley, a former NHL goalie, recalled

“Dave said, ‘Why would I do that?’ I said for all these reasons, he’s been a good guy, he’s been a loyal Senator and I’m not sure where it’s going in his career and it might be his only NHL game so let’s just give him a start.

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“Davey looks at me and he says, ‘I love Andrew, and we all like him, but I just got this job I can’t do that’,” Wamsley added with a chuckle. “I said, ‘Fair enough and I was just bringing it up’. I just felt like the world was just conspiring against Andrew Hammond like nobody’s business.

“I just felt like it wasn’t going to happen for him.”

It turned out that wasn’t the case and the rest is history.

Forced into duty, Hammond wasn’t very good in the 20 minutes and 46 seconds he played. He couldn’t stop a beach ball and gave up three goals on the five shots he faced from the Canes in the third period.

But the club didn’t have any other options so Hammond started two nights later when the Habs came to town because backup Chris Driedger had never played an NHL game. Who would have known that would be the start of something special and a run that will go down as remarkable for this organization.

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Hammond started his incredible streak with a 4-2 victory over the Habs on Feb. 18 at home. I have made 42 stops in the victory.

There were zero expectations for Hammond because he had a 7-13-2 record with a 3.51 GAA and a .898 save-percentage with the club’s AHL affiliate which was then located in Binghamton.

“To his credit once he knew he was starting the pro in him just came out,” Wamsley said. “It was unbelievable. Outwardly, he had confidence, he portrayed to his teammates that I’ve got your back so don’t worry about it while everybody was going, ‘Oh my God, what are we going to do?’

“He was the calmest guy in the room at least outwardly. I don’t know what was going on inside him but he was like, ‘I got you boys’ and the story is just unbelievable. It was the most fun story I was ever involved with in my coaching career and the most unexpected

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“It’s the happiest I’ve ever been for anyone I’ve worked with.”

After that first win, the Senators won five straight, including a sweep of California which had always been a disastrous spot for them. The club picked up nine of 10 points on a trip that made stops in Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Minnesota and wrapped up in Winnipeg.

Before the game against the Jets, the Senators were a little concerned because Hammond wasn’t able to stop a thing in warmup, he needed a game off and former center Kyle Turris went to check with him to see what was going on.

“We’re in Winnipeg and Hammy is exhausted. We’re playing lots of games on the road, Andy’s trying to come back but he can’t go so Hammy’s got to play again,” Wamsley said. “We were trying to give him a game off but Andy’s hand just wasn’t co-operating.

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“We’re in Winnipeg, he’s out for warmup and he can’t stop anything. Kyle Turris skates over to him and he says, ‘Hammy, what’s wrong?’ Hammond turns to him with all seriousness and says, ‘Turry, I’m so (bleeping) tired I just want to break a little bit of a sweat and get off the (bleeping) ice’.

“Then he goes out, stops 36 shots and we win 3-1 again in Winnipeg. From a guy that used to play the position, I had to get it going in warmup but the confidence this guy had in his ability to play the position is absolute.”

The community rallied around the Senators and the story because it was just such an unlikely run. The Hamburglar nickname came from his time in the minors and he had the McDonald’s character painted on his mask of him.

A local owner of McDonald’s gave Hammond a bunch of gift cards as a reward for the way he played. After a fan tossed a hamburger on the ice to celebrate a victory over Boston, winger Curtis Lazar picked it up off the ice and took a bite which just made this legendary run seem larger than life.

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“That made it more fun but in the hockey world, at that time, some people looked at The Hamburglar on his mask and basically said, ‘What the hell is that?’, Wamsley said. “I mean, here’s an unknown guy with The Hamburglar on his mask. Nobody knew what it was about and it ended up being one of the best marketing things going.

“It was so unforeseen because you didn’t know what to expect, you were hoping for the best and you got way more than the best, more than you could have ever imagined.”

Really, the story of Hammond is one that doesn’t come along often. He was a nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy that spring for perseverance and dedication to hockey that spring. I have also received votes for the Hart and Vezina.

Two games into the series against the Habs in the playoffs, Hammond was replaced by Anderson. During the 2015-16 campaign, he struggled with a hip injury and could never regain the form he had that spring. Hammond was dealt to Colorado as part of the Matt Duchene deal in 2017.

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He’s bounced around the AHL since then but it says a lot about Hammond’s character that nearly seven years after that remarkable run he’s still chasing the dream of being a full-time NHL player.

It would be nice if Habs’ interim coach Martin St. Louis gave him the start in this one, but Sam Montembeault is coming off a 32-save shutout Wednesday in a 4-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres.

This would be the first time Hammond has faced the Senators since he left in 2017.

“It says everything about Hammy,” Wamsley said. “He believes he can play; he believes he’s an NHL goalie and he’s going to keep going until somebody else recognizes it.”

[email protected]

Twitter: @sungarrioch

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