BOSTON (CBS) – Getting thrust into the life of an NHL player at 19-years-old comes with changes in priorities that teenagers in most other walks of life don’t have to make.
However, that wasn’t a burden to Dougie Hamilton. Now 20 and battling for the regular spot among the Bruins’ top six defensemen he held for much of the 2013 regular season, Hamilton knows where the dividing line is between being a professional player and still being, chronologically at least, a kid.
“I think obviously I’m pretty fortunate to be here when I was, I guess last year, 19 and this year I’m 20 and there’s not a lot of guys that kind of go through it that early,” Hamilton said after a recent practice at Bruins training camp. “You really have to grow up quick and I think that’s just the opportunity I’ve been given. It’s the opportunity I want, so obviously you can’t really complain about it. You just kind of go with it and mature as quick as you can and enjoy it.”
Hamilton is single. When he returned home to St. Catherines, Ontario over the summer, he lived with his parents and brother Freddie (a prospect in the San Jose Sharks). When he’s in Boston, he lives with teammate Adam McQuaid. Unlike a former teammate who complained about a rough life as a single guy on the Bruins (Hamilton would only say of that departed player “I think we’re a little bit different”), Hamilton finds ways to be entertained during the season without doing the types of things that might cause a problem with the organization or hinder the development expected from a player picked ninth overall in the 2011 draft.
There’s a lot of sitting around on the couch, a lot of television, and some attempts to learn to cook. There are dinners out and team-bonding experiences. Hamilton could easily be out living the frat-boy life, but he knows that that’s not what he’s here to do. From September until (he hopes) June, he’s in the Bruins’ employ and distractions can wait until summer.
He knows acting older than one’s years doesn’t mean he can never have fun. It’s just that he reserves most of his extracurricular activities to the offseason, when there isn’t a job to be done for 60 minutes a night on the ice and he can be around people who’ve known for the better part of his life.
“I think I like that. You really don’t have to be an adult when you’re home and you don’t have as many people watching you on the streets and in the media and everything,” he said. “You kind of have a little bit more fun.”
That doesn’t mean that Hamilton spent his summer only enjoying himself. He also worked hard to add the strength needed to get the most out of his limitless skills and become the top-two defenseman the Bruins think he can be. In 42 regular season games and seven postseason games he produced 19 points and was a plus-4 in the regular season. That’s a great start for a teenager, who even as he enters his second season knows he’s going to have to continue to look for subtle advantages he can get while still maybe a year or two away from reaching his final form in terms of bulk and size.
“Yeah, I think I’ve had some long years in the past couple years where you don’t have as much time in the summer to really gain strength-wise. So you really have to work in the three or four months, two months, or whatever it is,” said Hamilton, who was lucky enough to be part of long playoff runs in the NHL and OHL the past two seasons. “I think I’m still growing too and still [maturing physically] a little bit and I just have to be patient and kind of learn how to play without being as strong as guys and what you need to do to be able to compete and hopefully as I keep getting stronger I can be able to be like how I was when I was a veteran in the OHL.”
Hamilton was dominant in the OHL. He knows how great it feels to be a man among boys and he’s determined to grab that feeling again. That means acting like a man most of the time now so that down the road he can consistently play like a man and possibly, someday, be The Man.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.