As a rookie defenseman, Justin Hamonic played just 39 games.
Fast forward two years. After playing every game the past two seasons and his dedication to the game and his team, Hamonic was named captain of the Tri-City Americans on Thursday.
“I couldn’t have dreamt this,” Hamonic said from his home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. “It’s been a hard journey. It’s a great opportunity to be captain. It will be a fun year.”
Americans general manager Bob Tory had asked Hamonic if he thought he’d be up for the job during his exit interview two weeks ago. Hamonic said he would.
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After all, he’d worn the captain’s letter for almost two months while Mitch Topping recovered from a broken arm.
“Justin is the natural choice for next season’s captain,” Tory said in a news release. “As a four-year veteran, he knows our expectations and culture. He served as interim captain when Mitch (Topping) was injured and did an excellent job. We look forward to Justin leading our team next season.”
Hamonic is the second consecutive defenseman to lead the Americans, and the fourth over the last 15 years, joining T.J. Fast (2007-08), Jarrett Toll (2009-10) and Topping (2013-14).
He is the second Winnipeg native to the wear the C, following Mason Wilgosh (2011-12), who was captain during Hamonic’s rookie year.
“I learned a lot from Mason, Justin (Feser) and Mitch,” Hamonic said. “I hope to be able to carry that forward.”
Hamonic was taken in the fifth round of the 2009 WHL bantam draft. When he came into the league at 17, the Americans had a strong corps of defensemen that included Zach Yuen, Drydn Dow, Topping, Sam Grist and Derek Ryckman.
He bided his time, learned from the veterans, and his hard work paid off.
Hamonic was named the Americans’ Defenseman of the Year this season. In 72 games, he had one goal and 14 assists. His 15 points were more than he scored the last two years combined.
The Americans fared well under Hamonic’s leadership during the season. Topping was injured Nov. 22 against Kelowna and returned Jan. 25 against Spokane. Over the course of 22 games, Tri-City went 10-10-2-0, including a four-game win streak from Jan. 18 to Jan 24.
“When Tops went out, I was surprised I was asked to take over,” Hamonic said. “Ranks (Connor Rankin) and Mess (Marcus Messier) had more experience in the league. They all stepped up and helped me out. Just like on the ice, we had everyone contributing.”
The Americans will have a relatively young team this season. They return three overage players — Hamonic, Jackson Playfair and Lucas Nickles. They will have seven 19-year-olds, six 18-year-olds and four 17-year-olds.
“It should be a an easy transition,” Hamonic said. “We have a lot of young guys back. They have a year in the league and a round in the playoffs against Kelowna. It’s a good building block we can take advantage of.”
Hamonic will spend the summer teaching and coaching youth hockey in Winnipeg. He’d like to get in a few rounds of golf, but he’ll have to wait until the snow melts.
“I love being in Tri,” Hamonic said. “I golfed three times before I left, then came home to snow. I may get in a few round here in June, then it will snow again.”