This past Sunday I went to Belleville to speak to Andrew Hammond. And as fate would have it, he was called up minutes before this was supposed to be posted. Here’s The Hamburglar on his rocky journey to get back to the NHL…
It’s pretty strange to get traded, but then stay with the same team. Then again, there have been a lot of strange things about Andrew Hammond’s pro hockey career.
Less than three weeks ago, Hammond was part of the enormous three-way deal between Ottawa, Colorado, and Nashville that brought Matt Duchene to the Senators. Hammond, who was sent to Colorado in the deal, was immediately loaned back to Belleville by the Avalanche so he didn’t actually have to go anywhere.
“You know what? In some ways it’s been nice because it hasn’t been that big of an adjustment,” Hammond told me earlier this week. “I’ve been able to stay in Belleville. I’ve kind of said a couple times now that if I’m going to be playing in the American Hockey League I feel pretty fortunate to be able to play here. Really enjoy the town, the fans, and love playing with the teammates that I’m with right now. From that standpoint it’s been all positive and now it’s just kind of getting to know people in the Avalanche organization and that’s starting to happen now, too.”
Hammond took the NHL by storm when he posted a cartoony 20-1-2 record in 23 starts with a .941 save percentage to almost single-handedly will the Ottawa Senators into the 2014-15 playoffs. It was just his second professional season out of college.
For his efforts, the Senators signed Hammond to a three-year deal worth $1.35 million per season. Soon after however, Hammond’s numbers regressed, injuries worsened, and before you knew it he and his contract were buried in the AHL after Ottawa found a new backup in Mike Condon.
With a contract like that in the minors, Hammond says he saw the writing on the wall.
“I mean, it hasn’t necessarily been too much of a secret for the better part of the last year that something would probably happen. You heard things throughout, but this specific one is something I was a little caught off guard by, just because I hadn’t heard anything.”
As soon as he was dealt to the Avalanche, there were already reports that Colorado wanted to flip him.
“I don’t really worry about that stuff,” he said. It’s tough for me to have any input on that because all my focus is being in Belleville right now and playing well. One thing I’ve found out about pro hockey is things change quick, but at the same time, everyone does their best to treat you well and I think I’ve been nothing but happy with all the conversations I’ve had from people in the Avalanche organization.”
With a few teams struggling to find decent goaltending, or in the recent case of Vegas, struggling to just get two healthy goalies under contract, Hammond’s services could be of use. Through 10 games in the AHL so far this season, Hammond has a 5-2-1 record and a .919 save percentage. That’s a huge step up from his AHL numbers last year in Binghamton: .884 save percentage in just five games.
The biggest reason for Hammond’s bounce-back season so far? He says it’s health after having hip surgery earlier this year.
“To this point, it’s as good as I’ve felt in any season as a pro; even dating back to college overall. It’s by far the best I’ve felt from a health standpoint.”
Hammond says it wasn’t just the hip injury that was holding him back.
“I had knee pain constantly on my right side since college and I didn’t really know why,” he began. “Sometimes your kneecap pops out. And then I would have lower back pain if I was in a car or in a plane for more than two hours. It’s kind of everything. But now since I’ve had the surgery and all this gets taken care of, for the first time I’m not wearing a knee brace since college hockey. I don’t have back pain.”
For reference, the 29-year-old hasn’t played college hockey since 2013, long before “the run” that The Hamburglar brought Ottawa to the playoffs with.
Hammond also opened up about playing through injuries while trying to make it to the NHL. There were non-surgical methods for treating the torn labrum in Hammond’s right hip. None of those methods were guaranteed to work. This past winter he reached his breaking point.
“Last year I had to look myself in the mirror and say that ‘You need to do something to get better because you just can’t play the way that you’re feeling right now.’ I think for me that’s been the biggest thing and the biggest weight off my shoulders to this point.”
Although the surgery Hammond underwent was on his hip, he says the procedure has alleviated several other ailments.
“My hopes were to get a good hip and have that feel good. But to have it take care of all those other things, it’s exciting because it’s the first time I think I’ve been this healthy since maybe junior hockey. At my age you don’t necessarily think you’re gonna go back in time and feel better than you ever do. It’s exciting and I’m having fun playing hockey again. And for me I think that’s the biggest thing right now.”
As for his 55-game career in the NHL with Ottawa, Hammond wants to prove that it wasn’t just a flash in the pan.
“You see a lot of guys come into the league and they play really well off the start. I think the adrenaline, the fact you’re that you’re realizing your dream plays into that. I think I proved to myself and a lot of other people that I can play at that level. If anything, I’m just trying to show I can be a really good goalie at this level and get back to the NHL and do all that. My main focus right now is just playing well here and trying to win as many games as possible.”