When Craig Anderson returned from injury Sunday evening as the starting goalie of the Ottawa Senators, one of the best Cinderella stories of the National Hockey League (NHL) season was put on hold.
Surrey’s Andrew Hammond, nicknamed the Hamburglar, dominated the hockey headlines in the nation’s capital over the past three weeks. Thrust into the role, albeit temporarily, when first Anderson then backup Robin Lehner were sidelined with injuries, Hammond excelled in the Ottawa net.
The former Surrey Eagle put up amazing numbers in an eight-game run as the Sens’ starting netminder, winning seven games – the one loss by shootout – and posting a goals against average of 1.43 with a save percentage of .954.
Anderson got the start Sunday against the Calgary Flames, despite Hammond’s near perfect run. The Senators blew a 4-0 third period lead, but prevailed 5-4 in a shootout, prompting questions as to whether Hammond or Anderson will start tonight (Tuesday) against the Boston Bruins.
But regardless, Hammond has had an impressive run he won’t soon forget.
"You know what? If it ended, I looked back on it and I wasn't having fun, it wouldn't be worth it,” he told nhl.com. “It's something I've worked hard for and there's a fine line between having fun and doing your job still, and I think I'm able to manage that right now. I'm really enjoying it though. It's a lot of fun. The city is kind of rallying around the team right now and it's been a blast."
After three seasons in the BC Hockey League, including part of the 2007-08 season with the Surrey Eagles, Hammond went on to Bowling Green University where he played four years at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) level and was tagged with the nickname Hamburglar (a combination of his name, his ability to steal games, and the McDonald's restaurant character 1980s).
Hammond played 111 NCAA games with the Bowling Green Falcons, winning 30 and earning the team's Most Valuable Player honours twice.
He signed with the Senators in the spring of 2013, after finishing his career with the Falcons. He began this season with the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League last October, his second with Ottawa’s top farm team.
Hammond was called up to the NHL by the Senators on Jan. 28 as insurance when Anderson was sidelined with an injured hand. Lehner took over as the number one goalie, with Hammond tasked with serving as the backup.
It wasn’t expected Hammond would see much, if any, action. His numbers in the AHL this season aren’t spectacular. A goals against average of 3.51 and a save percentage of .898 were well below the league average.
So it wasn’t a surprise the 27 year-old, with all of 35 minutes of NHL experience behind him, took his place at the end of the Sens bench while Lehner started the next nine games.
But in that ninth game, Lehner sustained a concussion. Hammond became number one, which started of one of the NHL’s best stories this season.
After playing 21 minutes in relief of Lehner against the Carolina Hurricanes Feb. 16, Hammond was given his first-ever NHL start in Ottawa where the Montreal Canadiens. He stopped 42 of 44 shots, was named the game’s first star, and led the Senators to a 4-2 win over their Atlantic Division rivals.
Three days later, he stopped all but one shot in a 4-1 home-ice win over the Florida Panthers, then kicked off a five-game road trip with a 25-save effort while earning his first NHL shutout with a 3-0 victory over the Anaheim Ducks in California.
His second shutout was a day later, when he blanked the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings 1-0, making 35 saves.
He made history, and headlines, with a 4-2 triumph in San Jose over the Sharks. He became the first goalie in Sens history to win his first five NHL starts, and was named the league’s First Star of the Week on March 1.
More importantly, the Senators climbed from 10 points behind the Boston Bruins for the final playoff position in the Eastern Conference to as few as three as of last Friday.
“Let's not call him a flash in the pan. He's the real deal to me,” said Senators head coach Dave Cameron. “He's the real deal to our hockey club right now. We wouldn't be where we are, closing in on the gap, if it wasn't for him."