When Dillon Dube’s very first NHL shift included being run at by Erik Gudbranson, Travis Hamonic stepped up for the youngster, having his face shattered in the ensuing fight.
Now he’s stepping up to protect his daughter the best way he knows how.
The ink had hardly dried on the historic agreements that will see NHL playoff action and labour peace return, when Brad Treliving’s phone rang Friday night. It was Hamonic, dealing the Calgary Flames the latest in a season full of setbacks.
“Earlier this evening Travis called me to inform us that he has decided to opt out of the NHL return-to-play program,” said the Flames GM in a press release issued at 9:16 p.m. Friday night.
“Travis explained that due to family considerations, he has made the difficult decision not to participate in the Stanley Cup Qualifier and playoffs.”
Hamonic issued a statement through his agent less than an hour later, explaining why he is the first NHLer to exercise his right to skip the playoffs as per the return-to-play plan signed Friday.
“God has blessed me with the talent and opportunity to play in the NHL,” started the 29-year-old defenceman, who left the team for several games in mid-January while his eight-month-old daughter, Charlie, was hospitalized.
“Playing in the NHL is a privilege and I take a lot of pride in doing so for an incredible franchise like the Calgary Flames. Most importantly, God allowed my family the opportunity to see his love and grace first-hand last year when our little girl contracted a very serious respiratory virus. Like every parent, everything we do is to provide and protect our kids and try to take away any suffering they may endure. Last year we spent the longest, scariest and hardest week of our lives by our daughter’s hospital bedside. We were unsure of what would come next, but with God’s strength our little girl fought her respiratory virus and recovered. During that long week, we were helpless and couldn’t do anything to help her except hold her little hands, kiss her head and pray. We saw what a respiratory virus can do to our healthy little girl and it’s something no parent wants or should have to go through. Now blessed with our second child, a baby boy, the risk of today’s COVID-19 pandemic is a very difficult one to weigh as parents.
“Due to what my daughter already has gone through and the concerns if she were to catch COVID-19, I’ve decided to opt out and seek a leave of absence from the Calgary Flames for the remainder of the playoffs. I wish I could lace up my skates and be out there battling, blocking a shot and helping the team win, but my family has and always will come first. Being my little kids’ dad every day is the most important job I have. I love this game and my team. This is a decision that is extremely hard for me to make. I wish my teammates the best of luck and good health. I look forward to joining the C of Red, the greatest fans in the NHL, in cheering on my teammates as they chase the opportunity to bring the Stanley Cup home to Calgary.”
Hamonic, who lost his father at age 10 to a massive heart attack, has forged quite a name for himself as a man who has always put family first.
His charity work has long focused on helping children who have lost a parent, spending several years meeting such families after every single home game to offer support.
His focus is now on his own kids, which no one can question at a time when there are so many questions and so few answers or guarantees.
This is a decision that should be universally respected.
The ultimate team player, no one has ever doubted his dedication, as his on-ice trademark has forever revolved around sacrificing his body with an eye on winning.
His character will be missed on a blue line that is still deep in talent thanks to a pair of trade deadline acquisitions in Derek Forbort and Erik Gustafsson.
With Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie penciled in as the first pairing, Hamonic’s spot on the second pairing alongside Noah Hanifin could be replaced by Rasmus Andersson, while the newbies could form the third unit.
“While we will miss Travis in our lineup, we understand and respect his decision,” said Treliving of the Manitoba native, who will become an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the playoffs. “Our focus remains on preparation for training camp and our upcoming series in the NHL Qualifying Round.”
It was Brodie who collapsed during practice earlier in the year, marking the first of many traumatic moments for a team that soon thereafter lost coach Bill Peters due to racial allegations made by Peters’ former AHL player, Akim Aliu.
Hours before Hamonic’s call, Treliving said he had been given no indication any of his players were considering taking a pass on the play-in series against the Winnipeg Jets, as is their right up until Monday night – the same day camps are set to open.
One gets the feeling the surprises won’t end anytime soon for a Flames team that continues to have curveballs thrown its way.
The Flames open their best-of-five play-in series against Winnipeg Aug. 1 in Edmonton.