Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hamonic a huge fan

Islander D-man devastated when Jets left town in 1996

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The business of pro sports can be difficult to understand at the best of times -- NBA owners and players squabbling, NFL owners and players squabbling then kissing and making up, franchises threatening to relocate and so on -- but just imagine attempting to make sense of it all as a six-year-old.

And so it was for a young Travis Hamonic back in 1996 when the Winnipeg Jets pulled up stakes and headed for Arizona. The details and reasoning for the move meant little. All he knew then was that his favourite team and his favourite player would no longer be calling Manitoba home.

Fast forward to 2011 and Hamonic, now a blossoming star playing defence for the New York Islanders, is about to take the ice against a team he idolized before they vamoosed.

"That's the team I grew up watching," said Hamonic. "I was in love with Keith Tkachuk... I had his jersey and all the Jets' paraphernalia growing up. I remember going to the Jets' rally. I remember our family donating money to try and keep the Jets in the city, as many families did. I remember not really understanding what was going on when the Jets left because I was only six, but understanding it was something big and as you grow up you start to grasp what really happened.

"As you get older you go to Bomber games or Moose games and you hear the 'Go Jets Go' chants everywhere you go and you start to realize what the team meant to the city. I think everyone back in the community of Winnipeg is pretty excited and as a Winnipegger I think it's really good for the city."

What the Jets' return has also done is open up a flood of memories for Hamonic. His mother Lisa was in attendance for Thursday's game at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum against the Jets. And his dad Gerald, who died when Travis was 10 from a heart attack, would have loved a moment like this.

"Growing up I remember going to a lot of games with my brother and my dad," he said. "That's something, with my dad not being here any more... those are fond memories me and my brother have together now. I remember going to a hockey tournament when I was eight years old and they had a Phoenix jersey up for silent auction. I was doing anything I possibly could to make sure that I got that jersey. I don't know if my dad won it, or outright bought it for me. I still got that back at home. Since dad isn't here anymore it's another special memory I have to cherish."

A second-round draft pick of the Islanders in 2008, Hamonic's game improved dramatically last year after getting called up from the AHL. He had five goals -- the first coming against Ondrej Pavelec -- and added 21 assists in 62 games with the Islanders. And listening to Isles' head coach Jack Capuano, it's easy to understand why so many believe he'll be a mainstay on the blue-line for eons.

"The thing that impressed me most about him last year was his character and his maturity," Capuano said. "He finished the year strong and went into the summer not thinking, 'OK, I'm going to be right back on this team next year.' He made a point to come into camp and make it tough on the coaches that he's not going to go back to Bridgeport (the AHL affiliate), he's going to stay here. He has that attitude. He's a student of the game. He watches video constantly, every day, and as a young guy he's very vocal. His leadership qualities, for a young guy, are pretty special."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 4, 2011 C3

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