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Hamonic back in form as Isles edge Devils

Sturdy Defenseman Eager for Ice Time after Missing Playoffs

September 24, 2015 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic gets congratulations from his teammates after scoring what proved to be the game-winning goal in New York’s 2-1 exhibition victory over New Jersey at Downtown’s Barclays Center on Wednesday night. AP photo
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Travis Hamonic logged a team-high 22 minutes of ice time per night as the New York Islanders drove toward their second playoff appearance in three seasons during the 2014-15 campaign.

The 25-year-old defenseman didn’t get to hit the ice for a single second during New York’s tough seven-game opening-round series loss to the Washington Capitals in the postseason, after suffering a torn MCL in the Islanders’ second-to-last regular-season contest.

So it was quite fitting that the gritty blue-liner made his return to game action by logging a team-high 25:14 of playing time and scoring what proved to be the game-winning goal in Wednesday night’s 2-1 exhibition victory over the New Jersey Devils at Downtown’s Barclays Center.

“It was awesome. I was excited,” said Hamonic, who followed Brock Nelson’s unassisted game-opening tally in the first period with a slap shot off a brilliant feed from team captain John Tavares to stake the Isles to an early 2-0 lead, which they would not surrender.

“I thought we had a good start,” Hamonic added. “Obviously on the goal, Johnny made a good pass. That’s Johnny being Johnny.”

Tavares drew a defender on his hip and bore in toward Devils goaltender Cory Schneider before recognizing that Hamonic was cruising in at the top of the slot all alone.

“I don’t think anybody on the ice really knew it was coming except for me calling for the puck,” Hamonic said of the perfect set-up for his first goal since also potting one against the Devils on March 21.

“He drew everyone to him. I don’t think Schneider really saw much coming the way Johnny made that play.”

Hamonic didn’t squander the opportunity in his first bit of NHL action since April 10 at Pittsburgh, drilling his slapper past a defenseless Schneider for the game-winner.

“I thought Travis played well,” Islanders head coach Jack Capuano noted. “This is the Travis that we saw last year. He’s always prided himself on playing against the top lines.”

Nelson took the puck right off Schneider’s stick behind the net to open the scoring, beating the goalie back to the front of the net with a quick wrister to make it 1-0 just 3:57 into the opening stanza.

Following Hamonic’s tally, the Isles found themselves clinging to their lead as New Jersey outshot New York, 14-9, in the second period, cutting the Isles’ lead in half on Lee Stempniak’s unassisted wraparound goal with just over two minutes left before the second intermission.

Kevin Poulin, likely to be Jaroslav Halak’s back-up in the Oct. 9 regular-season opener against Chicago here, stopped all but one of the 23 shots he faced as Brooklyn, make that New York, improved to 2-0 at the Barclays Center this preseason.

“I think we’re a hard-working group, we don’t take things for granted,” Tavares said. “The first week has been very good, guys are competing hard, skating hard and pushing ourselves for game one.”

“The veteran guys are getting a feel for [Barclays Center],” added Capuano. “It’s starting to feel right.”

Especially right for Hamonic, who waited five long months to take the ice again with his teammates here in their brand-new home.

* * * *

Prior to Wednesday’s game against the Devils, the Islanders announced that George McPhee, former long-time general manager in Washington, has been named a Special Adviser to Isles General Manager Garth Snow.

“George brings a tremendous amount of experience and insight to our front office,” Snow said. “His ability to evaluate players, along with his managerial skills, are an asset that we’re thrilled to add to our Hockey Operations Department.”

“I’m excited to join such a storied franchise,” McPhee added. “The Islanders have a great young team and I’m looking forward to contributing in any way I can to help them get to the next level.”

McPhee served as GM of the Capitals for 17 seasons, beginning in 1997-98. The Capitals reached the playoffs 10 times during McPhee’s tenure, including six straight seasons from 2007-08 to 2012-13.

Under his leadership the team claimed seven Southeast Division championships (1999-00, 2000-01, 2007-08, 2008-09, 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2012-13) and one President’s Trophy (2009-10).

McPhee oversaw Washington’s first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in his first season.

The Islanders will play their final Barclays Center preseason contest next Monday at 7 p.m. against the Capitals.

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