BOSTON (CBS) — It’s become a bit of a Boston hockey ritual in recent years. In 2007, a big-bodied, 19-year-old bruiser named Milan Lucic burst onto the scene and immediately had Bruins fans celebrating this generation’s version of Cam Neely. In the ’09-’10 season, a 22-year-old netminder stepped in for Tim Thomas and finished the season as the leader in goals-against average and save percentage. In June 2011, a flashy 19-year-old forward named Tyler Seguin was thrown into the lineup in Game 1 of the conference finals, and he scored three goals and added three assists in the first two games of the series, electrifying the home crowd and establishing himself as a member of the Boston Bruins.
And on Friday night at the Garden, we saw just may have seen the introduction of Boston’s newest 19-year-old hockey star in Dougie Hamilton.
The kid earned the head coach’s praise Wednesday night against the Rangers, and by the third period against the Islanders, he had won over the fans, too, as audible chants of “Doug-E” rained down from the balcony late in the 4-2 victory.
“I was going back to get the puck and I thought that’s what I heard, and I just had to make sure I wasn’t fumbling it,” the soft-spoken Hamilton said in the Bruins locker room after being named the game’s first star.
He earned those honors by factoring in to two of the Bruins’ four goals. His hard shot from the point into a crowd in front of goaltender Rick DiPietro forced a rebound, which Shawn Thornton was able to corral into the net for the Bruins’ first score of the night.
It was Hamilton’s second assist, though, that showed why he the makings of a special defenseman.
With the Bruins clinging to a 3-2 lead 13 minutes into the third period, Hamilton received a puck from Dennis Seidenberg in the right corner behind his own net. Hamilton glanced up the ice and saw Brad Marchand streaking up the left boards in front of the benches. Hamilton settled the puck and fired a hard pass with pinpoint accuracy onto the stick of Marchand. The puck remained on Marchand’s blade for less than a second, as he passed the puck to Patrice Bergeron at center ice, and he made his way into the offensive zone on a breakaway. Bergeron finished the play with a brilliantly composed move on DiPietro, but it was Hamilton’s pass that had everyone buzzing in the Bruins locker room.
“I think that was the perfect breakout right there,” Bergeron said after scoring his first goal of the season. “Dougie found the seam to Marchy, and Marchy was open and came down low to get that passing lane there open, and it spread their forecheck and I was able to get the breakaway.”
It wasn’t long after that play when the fans began chanting Hamilton’s first name, a moment he described as “pretty cool.”
“I don’t know if it’s really sunk in that I’m playing in the NHL,” Hamilton, who now has three points in the last two games, said. “It feels so weird being out there instead of being a kid watching it and dreaming about it. I’m just trying to stay focused and keep doing my best.”
That hasn’t been a problem thus far. Despite being without defensive partner Seidenberg in two of his first four games, Hamilton’s played essentially mistake-free hockey. His offensive contributions may be coming earlier than some folks may have expected, but not Hamilton himself.
“I think most of you guys are more surprised than I am,” he said. “I think for me, I didn’t really have any expectations. I just tried to do my best. I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities so far and I’m playing with a lot of great players, so that makes it a lot easier on me.”
Many of those teammates have an easy time relating to Hamilton, because many of them were in the same position not too long ago.
“It’s a spark,” said Lucic, who assisted on a Zdeno Chara goal and won a unanimous decision in his Friday night fight against Matt Carkner. “You always like to see the young guys come in and play well and have that excitement of living the dream of being in the NHL. It’s great to see. It wasn’t too long ago that I was 19 and first came into the league and was having a lot of fun. Obviously, he’s at a different level than I was at at 19.
“It’s great that he’s able to bring that extra energy to the team. To see him do well like that definitely gives us a bit of a lift.”
Of course, it’s early, but still, the returns thus far are good — so much so that Lucic was left to question the drafting strategies of several NHL clubs.
“Looking at him now, it’s kind of crazy that he was passed up by eight teams to go ninth overall in the 2011 draft,” Lucic said. “We’re real fortunate to have him. He’s got a lot of skill, he’s got a lot of poise, and he plays with a lot of confidence.”
The confidence is bound to take a few hits at some point — no rookie defenseman has ever been able to escape making mistakes eventually — but on Friday night in Boston, the Boston fans let Dougie know that he’s been officially welcomed into the fraternity. It’s not just any player who inspires a crowd to chant his name in just his fourth career game as a professional.
Now just imagine what will happen in that place when he scores his first goal.