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Learning NHL in the now key for Hamilton

January 22, 2013, 11:19 PM ET [37 Comments]
Ty Anderson
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While cliche, it’s been said by everybody lucky enough to don one that putting a Boston Bruins sweater on is simply more than that. In Boston, there’s a certain way of doing things, a certain style, attitude, and swagger that comes with the Black-and-Gold. It’s been that way from the very beginning, starting with the days of Eddie Shore and now into 2013 with a roster littered with skill-and-size, and it’ll always be the case.

It’s an identity that the city gravitates towards, rallies around, and it’s the way that hockey’s always meant to be played in their eyes.

In essence, it’s best described as “Bruins Hockey.”

It’s also something entirely new, but welcoming to the Bruins’ Dougie Hamilton.

Skating in the second professional game of his career yesterday, and playing a more pivotal role in the Bruins’ defense given the lower-body injury that kept pairing-partner Dennis Seidenberg out of action, making the jump to Boston’s top-pairing with Zdeno Chara didn’t come without some patented “Welcome to the show, kid” shots from the opposition. In particular, one from Bruin-turned-Jet Blake Wheeler.

Deadlocked in a 1-1 game early in the third, with Hamilton possessing the puck in his corner looking for an outlet pass, Wheeler came in and delivered a high but legal hit to the 6-foot-5 Hamilton. Leaving the Boston captain (and bench for that matter) with a bad taste in their mouth, Wheeler was acknowledged with some slashes from Chara, was leveled by the 6-foot-9 captain at the redline at the end of the shift, and was even given a talking to by the B’s enforcer, Shawn Thornton later in the period.

The message was clear: You’re not touching the club’s top prospect.

“It was unreal,” Hamilton, who played almost 24 minutes yesterday, said of the protection from Chara. “He doesn’t have to do that for me, but he came over and gave the guy a cross check and then Wheeler was coming down on him and he laid him out pretty good, so I saw that and I was laughing on the ice and instant smile, so I guess I’m used to that with my brother protecting me, but it’s nice to have guys here do it.”

Under the protection of an entire Bruins roster, Hamilton doesn’t need to focus on the opposition sure to target him as he continues to integrate himself into Boston’s top-four defense, but rather the clear progression that’s already been made from game one to game two.

“He doesn’t seem uncomfortable at all. It’s not the pace that’s going to bother him, because he’s a great skater, and so he can keep up with the pace,” B’s defensemen Andrew Ference said of Hamilton's introduction to the B's defensive system. “He’s the type of guy, he can move the puck, and I think he mentioned it as well, it’s almost easier to play at this level because all your teammates are in such good position. He’s able to jump in with his skill set a lot easier than a guy that’s just working hard, or anything like that, because he’s got the raw talent.”

Despite an NHL career that’s just 37 minutes deep thus far, there’s been a certain feeling every time the puck has been on the end of Hamilton’s blade, and that’s not a surprise by any means. Arriving to Boston after a career headlined by 40 goals and 187 points in 213 games for the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League, Hamilton’s offensive timing and ability to join the rush at will is clearly one of his biggest strengths, and one that the B’s sorely crave from a point that’s been in search for their true offensive defensemen since the beginning of the Claude Julien era -- six years ago now.

“I thought even in the second half, noticed that he was making better plays with the puck than he had so far,” Julien said of the 6-foot-5 blue-liner’s offensive game against Winnipeg, adding, “I think that’s confidence coming around and experience, and he’s starting to feel his way through these games, and that’s pretty impressive for a young player.”

But merely looking impressive doesn’t pad the stats, evident by Hamilton’s zeros on the stat-sheet and the Bruins’ woeful 0-for-9 mark on the man-advantage through two times, and there’s also room to grow, especially in a baptism by fire introduction to playing defense in the NHL. “My goal is to be here all year, and I’ve got to play my best, and it doesn’t really matter how many games or whatever,” Hamilton told the media yesterday when asked about sticking around with the big club for the entire year. “I just want to play my best every game so that I can stay.”

Yet, as much as the B’s wish they had the usual nine-game test run to see if Hamilton’s going to stick with the big club, tomorrow will be the third game for the organization’s premier defensive prospect, putting them over the halfway point of making the decision as to where Hamilton ends his 2013 season (Be it in Boston or Niagara back in the OHL), inching sixty minutes closer to the fifth game.

The obvious question here is whether or not there’s anything to truly be gained from returning the Toronto, Ont. native back to the Ontario Hockey League, where he’d continue to dominate an age group that he’s clearly matured beyond? The answer, of course, is a crystal clear absolutely not, which is why it’s almost automatic to believe that Hamilton’s better served learning how to play hockey in Julien’s system from names such as Chara, Seidenberg, and Ference. Again, in essence, learning how to play “Bruins Hockey.”

A sentiment seemingly echoed by the B’s coaching staff.

“When we get close to that five-game number I think if there’s any question marks I’ll certainly hear about it,” Julien said of Hamilton’s five-game window with the club. “But right now there’s been no talk from my end of it. I’m sure they do their job downstairs in this building here, but they do their job and they certainly talk about what the options are. But to me he’s on our team, he’s a player I’m relying on until they tell me that he’s not going to be here anymore.”

The plus for Hamilton, the B’s and their fans? It’s time for the third game of the year, and he’s still here, logging significant minutes.

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