A year ago Rob Hamilton was one of a large number of young defensemen in minor pro hockey, dreaming of National Hockey League stardom. After a whirlwind season that saw him become a big part of the Stockton Heat blueline, his dream is a little bit closer.
Originally from Calgary, the 25-year-old Hamilton is a left shot defender who came to pro hockey via the scenic route. He spent two seasons with the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Okotoks Oilers, followed by a full four seasons in college with the NCAA’s Vermont Catamounts.
Following the competition of his college eligibility, he didn’t get any nibbles from American Hockey League clubs and instead caught on with the ECHL’s Manchester Monarchs at the end of the 2016-17 season and began to grind. He managed to turn some hard work into ever-increasing stints in the AHL:
- Six games with the Springfield Falcons in 2016-17
- 33 games split between Springfield and the Laval Rocket in 2017-18.
- 54 games with the Stockton Heat in 2018-19
Hamilton landed with the Heat in mid-November as their blueline was strained by injuries. He ended up sticking around for the entire season.
“Well, honestly, it started out as a two week kind of plan,” said Hamilton after the Flames’ 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers prospects at the Saddledome. “Brad Pascall gave me a call and said ‘we need to move pucks out, break pucks out of the zone for two weeks. Do what you do, see how it goes.’ Said play three games and we’ll evaluate after the week and see how it’s going… You never wish anybody bad luck or want anybody to get hurt, but guys kept getting hurt, going down and then somebody would go up and I would keep sticking around for a bit. I was able to keep playing well enough fortunately for them to keep me around instead of sending me down or trying somebody else.”
Hamilton’s original 25-game try-out contract expired in mid-January. His initial 25 games was impressive, with five goals and 20 points over that span. He had three assists in the final week of his stint to cement his status going forward.
“I basically had 25 games to show my stuff,” said Hamilton. “Probably around early this year – January or February – when I was feeling more comfortable and part of the team, everyone was very supportive and treated me well. Ended up signing for the rest of that year, AHL deal, and for this year.”
Through rookie camp, Hamilton has carved out an interesting role for himself. Over the off-season, the Flames recruited prized free agent Alexander Yelesin from Russia. The job of helping Yelesin acclimate to North America has so far fallen to Hamilton, who’s formed a pretty effective partnership with his new Russian friend through two rookie games.
“That was kind of my goal heading into camp, obviously, just be a good teammate and try to support everybody else,” said Hamilton. “Being one of the older guys here, just kind of lead the way for some of the younger guys. Alex not knowing a whole lot of English, try to help him out with drills and coaching concepts and stuff as much as I can. Try to talk him through some stuff on the bench and whenever he has questions it takes a little longer to get the point across sometimes, but he’s trying his best to learn English and I’m glad that I can help him out. Definitely at the end of the day, everyone’s trying to get that NHL deal and play in this room full-time.”
If Yelesin has a successful season, it could help Hamilton’s case for converting his AHL pact into an NHL contract in the near future.