After his record-setting run last spring, which launched his National Hockey League career, Andrew Hammond’s approach to this season was no different than any other.
For the first time, the Surrey native began a season in the NHL, playing goal for the Ottawa Senators while on a multi-million dollar one-way contract. Yet he insists not much has changed.
“It’s a little bit different, but you kind of approach it the same way,” he said last week, immediately after practice in Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre and just prior to a flight to Michigan for a game against the Detroit Red Wings.
“If anything, you try to put more emphasis on having a good start, and making sure you do everything you can to have your season start on the right track.
“Obviously, throughout your career you’re doing all those things. But it is the NHL, everything’s cranked up a notch.”
Hammond cranked it up more than a notch last spring when he was handed the starter’s role with the Ottawa Senators. Called up in February to serve as a backup when starter Craig Anderson was injured, he became the number-one netminder when Robyn Lehner was sidelined a few games later.
Hammond then went on an amazing run, first matching a record set by Boston Bruins netminder Frank Brimsek by allowing two or fewer goals in each of his first 12 games. He then went 20-1-2 (win-loss-tie) as a starter down the stretch as the Senators overcame a 14-point deficit to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Senators rewarded Hammond, demonstrating their faith in the netminder by trading Lehner in the offseason, all but ensuring Hammond a place on the NHL team for this season.
But he isn’t taking anything for granted, knowing his status as a major-league player can change at any time. He has put last year well behind him, and is looking ahead.
“I’ve always been someone who doesn’t really get too high or too low. When it (the record-setting run) was going on, I was going about my business and I don’t think it changed too much for me,” he said.
“Hitting the reset button wasn’t something I struggled with at all. There are people all over the world training each day to take your job and you need to remember that.”
In the offseason, he signed a one-way, three-year contract with the Senators worth $4.05 million, a significant boost from the two-year deal which expired at the end of last season and paid the 27-year-old netminder at a rate of $720,000 annually while in the NHL and $105,000 when in Binghamton.
“I don’t think it really changes anything for me,” he shrugged. “I’ve always been someone trying to be the best goalie I can be. It’s all I can ask for, and whether or not I have a contract that’s going to be my focus. That’s the only way you can really approach it and have success.
“Having a contract with an NHL team is one thing, and making it in the NHL is another.”
Many players give up on the dream of making it in the NHL when in their early 20s. Now 27, Hammond achieved the goal much later than most. Having played just 25 NHL games prior to this season, he would still be considered a rookie if it not for his age. First-year players 26 and over are not considered rookies.
And Hammond himself wasn’t sure about an NHL career until he was playing with the Bowling Green Falcons of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). He joined the Ohio university on a hockey scholarship in 2009 after a three-year career in the BC Hockey League, which included a short stint with the Surrey Eagles.
“My first year at Bowling Green didn’t go great, then in my second year I started hearing there was a bit of interest,” he recalled. “But you’re always wondering, you don’t know exactly what that means.”
It was at Bowling Green he acquired the nickname The Hamburglar, a play on his name and his ability to steal games.
He had his best season in the fourth and final year with the Falcons, and the next season he was assigned to the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League after signing a two-year, two-way contract with Ottawa.
Even then, Hammond was giving his best, but not counting on getting a chance to play regularly at the NHL level.
“I knew I was going to give myself the best chance, and if it was meant to happen it would take care of itself,” he said. “But it wasn’t something I could worry about.”
He doesn’t have to worry about it now, as he’s firmly entrenched as the backup goalie to Anderson this season, knowing the Senators have full confidence in his ability.
It’s a far cry from six years ago, when a Junior A standout was hoping to be able to make it as an NCAA goaltender, leaving his home in Surrey to play at a higher level on the other side of the continent.
“When I left for college, it wasn’t in my mind that I wouldn’t return home (to Surrey),” he said. “But it’s part of growing up and thinking about your job. After going to college and everything, things change.”
Rigid in his thinking of not looking to far ahead, Hammond is looking forward to Feb. 25, when the Senators are in Vancouver to play the Canucks at Rogers Arena.
“It will be special,” he admitted. “It’s the team I grew up following and cheering for. I went to a lot of games in that rink as a fan. To have more friends and family in the building it will make it that much more special.”