By Christine Troyke
Gwinnett Daily Post
Flashy, though, isn’t the way to describe Hamilton’s game. He’s smooth and he’s precise and he’s solid. Much like a sharp blade, you nearly don’t notice how deep the cut is until the blood wells up.
Hamilton does all the right things, is always in the right place. He’s a complete player and made a seamless transition to professional hockey after four years at the perennially powerful University of Maine.
“He knows exactly where to go and why he’s there,” Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle said. “That’s why you don’t see him out of position a lot, you don’t see him wandering.”
The 24-year-old British Columbia native developed a defensively responsible attitude playing with the Black Bears, who made the Frozen Four in three of Hamilton’s four seasons.
“I kind of rounded out my game being there,” Hamilton said. “I learned some things about playing defense more and being better in the “D’ zone. That definitely prepared me for the next level, so I can be comfortable in all areas.
“I like playing defense. I like being out there the last shift of the game in your own zone, trying to block a shot or getting the puck out.”
His offensive numbers in college reflected that role. Hamilton had his best point total as a senior, scoring nine goals and picking up 13 assists for 22 points in 40 games. Not too shabby, but not gaudy either.
“He’s a solid two-way guy,” Pyle said. “In college – and I’m guessing here because that’s about all I can do – I don’t think he was given an opportunity to play in a lot of offensive situations.
“I think he’s starting to feel now I have confidence in him and I believe in what he does.”
As the first-line center, Hamilton isn’t being asked to be so defensive-minded. Sure, it’s still important – having the most prolific offense in the ECHL last season didn’t win the Gladiators a championship.
But Hamilton is enjoying his new responsibilities and Pyle intends to give the 6-foot, 200-pound forward every opportunity to rack up the points.
“I love it – I think this is the player I am,” Hamilton said. “I enjoy the offensive part of the game. You have to be accountable defensively as well. Jeff always puts that message across to us. But he says if you get an opportunity to go, run with it.
“It definitely feels good for him to have confidence in the guys on our team. It takes a little weight off your shoulders, knowing you don’t have think so much, you can just go out and play.”
Hamilton has eight points in 10 games already and has been a big reason Gwinnett is off to the best start in team history (8-1-1).
“He’s going to have enough opportunities, I just want him to stay focused on believing in himself and working hard and putting pucks to the net – just doing simple things because that’s the way he is,” Pyle said. “He’s a solid fixture in there. He can play in every situation. He’s very intelligent in all aspects of the game.
“He’s just a good guy to have in the locker room, too. He battles for the guys.”
Drafted by Atlanta and eventually signed by its AHL affiliate in Chicago, Hamilton is yet another character guy on this roster. It’s something that Pyle always values, but probably especially in view of difficulties he had last season with a few players.
“It’s a good group,” Pyle said. “It’s fun to coach guys like that, guys who want to learn and understand what they’re doing here and why they’re here.
“(Hamilton) is a really easy-going guy. He’s just … I guess the best way to put it is he’s just a regular dude. He’s intelligent and he understands the situation here. I think he’s one of those guys that’s happy he’s not somewhere (bad).”
Hamilton is obviously trying to make it to the next level, but there’s no sense of entitlement, no air of dissatisfaction around him. He attended the Thrashers’ prospect camp in July and their rookie tournament at Traverse City, Mich. in September.
It was in Traverse City that he got to know Pyle, who was behind the team’s bench with Chicago assistant Todd Nelson.
“I think that was part of the reason I felt really comfortable signing (with Gwinnett’s AHL affiliate),” Hamilton said. “I knew I made the right decision because I spoke to Jeff first and seeing how he is on the bench when he was coaching us, I really liked him.”
Atlanta invited him to its main training camp and from there Hamilton went to camp in Chicago. At that point, Pyle wanted to make sure Hamilton knew the Gladiators were interested in him if he didn’t stick with the Wolves.
While Hamilton was in the area with Thrashers camp, Pyle brought him over to the Gwinnett Arena.
“I said, “I’m just letting you know what we have. I would love to have you here. If you have something that’s better for you, I’m all for it,'” Pyle said.
After good showings at both upper-level training camps, the Wolves ended up signing Hamilton and sending him to the Gladiators. It’s been an excellent match.
“I’m happy, especially when the team’s winning,” Hamilton said. “Personally I feel good. I’m confident out there. Each game, I’m just trying to keep getting better and better.”