TORONTO – Tonight’s game is the pinnacle of 19-year-old Dougie Hamilton’s dreams growing up in Ontario.
He was a huge Maple Leafs fan as a kid growing up in Toronto and always watched Hockey Night in Canada.
So playing before a national audience on the Canadian institution was certainly a thing of daydreams while growing up, and the realization of one of a number of lifelong dreams for the former first round pick. Hamilton indicated it was almost cooler playing against the Leafs as a visiting team at the Air Canada Centre, and there will certainly be a few memorable moments with friends and family in the stands. If it can be anything like Tyler Seguin’s hat trick last season in a 7-0 drubbing of the Leafs in their own barn, then even so much better.
One thing Hamilton won’t have on this mind?
The Phil Kessel deal that helped bring Dougie to Boston as one of three draft picks netted for the Toronto scorer along with Tyler Seguin (2010 first round) and Jared Knight (2010 second round). Since the trade went down years before Hamilton ever donned the Black and Gold, it has little meaning to him.
That might be a different story tonight if Hamilton and Seguin – along with former Maple Leafs property Tuukka Rask dealt to Boston in the one-sided Andrew Raycroft trade – both dominate against Toronto in the Northeast Division showdown.
“It’s definitely going to be pretty cool,” said Hamilton, who said his friends and family are getting their own tickets because ‘that makes it easy on me.’ “The [Kessel deal] doesn’t really mean anything to me because I wasn’t really part of the trade. I was just a pick, I guess. I don’t really think or care about that.
“There’s just excitement. I grew up watching Leafs games in that rink, and dreamt of playing for that team and playing in the NHL. I guess I always dreamt of playing for the Leafs, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized how cool it will be to play against them.”
Hamilton was typically “aw shucks” when asked about his remarkable experience thus far with the Black and Gold while averaging just under 19 minutes of ice time in seven games. The 6-foot-5 teenager has four assists and a minus-2 rating in those seven games, and has come even better than advertised. Hamilton can move the puck with ease out of his own zone, find shooting lanes to the net that create big, fat rebounds for his teammates and has uncanny poise for a player just two weeks into his NHL career.
“I’ve had good opportunities so far and it’s an ideal situation with a lot of good defensemen to look up to,” said Hamilton. “It’s a lot different [than junior], but I think I’m getting used to the personnel and the style of play.”
While the first time playing against a team they idolized as a boy can be a heady experience for some players, it’s expected that Hamilton will handle it with the same amount of uncommon calm that he’s shown at every turn.
Perhaps a couple of points and crisp playmaking passes for good measure against the Leafs wouldn’t be a shock either.