Travis Hamonic deliberately inflicts and begrudgingly absorbs unceasing physical pain. Perhaps that’s why he’s known around the NHL as ‘Hammer’. Somehow, all the hurt that takes place while plying his trade has led the rugged Calgary Flames defenseman to a way of lessening the pain – for himself and others – by sharing his emotional scars, providing lifelong memories, and assisting those less fortunate. Hamonic is an empathetic and effective man of action, on and off the ice.
Former Islander Traded West to Alberta
Now entering his 10th NHL season and third with the Flames, Hamonic was just a 10-year-old boy in his hometown of St. Malo, Manitoba, when the autumn harvest was in full force and his father Gerald, aged 44, died of a heart attack. Hamonic, his mother Lisa and three older siblings – brother Jesse and sisters Melissa and Carly – had to go it alone that September in 2000 to get the remaining crops off the land. Lisa eventually sold the family farm and they moved north to Winnipeg in 2003, where she worked as a nurse while Travis rose up the minor hockey ranks.
More importantly, the visiting family shares a heartfelt story of losing a parent too young with someone who has been there. It might appear to be a mere conversation from afar, but Hamonic insists the experience is therapeutic for the families and for himself. Shared sorrow can sometimes be a catalyst for relief, offering inspiration and brightness in otherwise dark times. For Hamonic, the dark times returned when he was just out of junior hockey and making his way as a pro within the New York Islanders organization, as their 2008 second-round NHL Entry Draft pick.
Hamonic’s experience of losing a parent at such a young age and internalizing his grief prompted him to found Hammer’s D-Partner Program in 2012. For each home game and many road matches, he provides special seats and jerseys, shirts, and other souvenirs for a family who has lost a parent. Before the game, high-fives between the guests and the players as the team leaves the locker room for the first period. After the contest, Hamonic introduces himself and hosts a tour of the dressing room and some behind the scenes moments that often involve interaction with his teammates.
“I Try to Use My Stage to Make a Difference”
“When I was 20-years-old my grief kind of hit me all over again and I needed a better way to deal with it, to channel it,” Hamonic told Sportsnet’s After Hours. “You want to be able to help out, you want to be able to look back on your time in life, not only your career but in life and know that you tried to make a difference and a positive impact in someone else’s life ‘cause there’s a lot more than hockey. I try to use my stage to make a difference and we created Hammer’s D-Partner. It helps, it helps them – and in a weird selfish way – it helps me deal with my grief.”
The success of the program was instantaneous and brought forth mixed- emotions. Hamonic said the fact that so many families are making requests to be hosted is great because he knows he can extend himself to help, but its success also means that too many children are losing a parent. In an ideal world, there would be no need for such a program. But in the real world, the 29-year-old is grateful for the tireless assistance of others to ensure his program is helping the community, a little bit at a time.
“I sat down with the staff in New York at the time, (Executive Director of Communications) Kimber Auerbach and (Director of Community Relations) Ann Rina, and they run the program and everything in New York,” he recalled fondly. “I mean, what two awesome people, people you want around you – we sat down and came up with the idea immediately that I want to be able to help out, and we, unfortunately, found out that there’s quite the demand for people wanting to be a part of the program. I say unfortunately because it means people are dying and people are losing parents and you never want to see someone go through that. “
In April of 2017, the former Islanders defenseman was named one of two finalists for the NHL Foundation Player Award for community service, along with Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds. Chosen by a judging panel of team nominees, the award is given to a player who “applies the core values of hockey, commitment, perseverance, and teamwork to enrich the lives of people in his community.” Hamonic was named the winner at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas on June 20. He was traded to the Flames four days later.
“We hit the ground running and right after the trade to Calgary, it’s probably the first conversation I had that same day, was to have Blake (Heynen) from the Flames – who’s done a great job here – get in contact with Ann and Kimber to try get the program up and running as fast as we can, so (for) the first home game we’d be ready to rock, and we were.”
In Calgary, after quickly cutting bait on his fishing trip, the newest Flame immediately began the task of moving Hammer’s D-Partner Program to the Cowtown and quickly found a corporate sponsor in MEG Energy.
“We Hit the Ground Running Right After the Trade to Calgary”
“What differentiates it from different programs is that I have an opportunity to speak from the heart and really share my experience. I’ll spend upwards from 30 minutes to an hour with these kids and their families and not only share my story but having them share their stories,” Hamonic told New York Islanders Productions. “It’s more of an interactive thing than anything. I just know that there is a bigger supporting cast around them and know that they’re not in this alone, whether it’s me or some of the hundreds of kids I’ve met throughout the last couple of years.
“It was a really tough, tough thing for me to be able to share my story, but part of the reason I wanted to is that there are other kids that I can reach than just maybe the people on Long Island and I’m excited that it’s been recognized for all the kids out there that are going through something and maybe they stumbled upon the video on the internet and they say ‘Hey, look at all these people going through the same thing I’m going through and it’s not just Travis but it’s all the kids that he’s meeting,’ and that makes me feel better.”
Related: Bill Torrey’s Legacy
Though the participants in the program are strangers, Hamonic leaves the door wide open for a longer relationship to develop should the families choose:
“I give them my email and I leave it up to them if choose to get a hold of me afterwards, then it’s part of my responsibility as an athlete but more so as a person to stay in touch and form a bit of a friendship and a bond,” he said. “Ironically, this whole program started because my dad died but I don’t think it’s anything my dad wouldn’t have expected from me.”
Calgary Flames Foundation a Charitable Partner
Now, the Calgary Flames Foundation, the charitable arm of the hockey club, is getting the word out and has partnered with three local bereavement groups – Hospice Calgary, The Kid’s Cancer Care Foundation of Alberta and the Calgary Police Foundation – to connect families with Hammer’s D-Partner program.
Realizing that his charitable efforts were making a difference in young lives, Hamonic was inspired by the late Gord Downie of the iconic Canadian rock group The Tragically Hip. Downie used his celebrity to advocate for Indigenous rights and reconciliation, leading Hamonic – who is Métis – to also found The Northern Project in Dec. 2017.
Hamonic and his wife Stephanie provide the airfare for an all-expenses-paid weekend trip to Calgary for Indigenous children from the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut. The Flames help out with accommodations and game tickets. The Northern Project has an eager partner in Hockey North, which solicits teachers, coaches, and community volunteers to nominate kids deserving of the opportunity to fly down and be special guests at an NHL game. Once selected, the worthy winners receive a personal call from the Hamonics.
“What a great thing he (Gord Downie) did to donate the last couple years of years of his life to really give voice to and create a conversation on kind of one of the darker moments in our country’s history,” Hamonic stated. “I’m extremely proud of my heritage of being Métis, and my wife and I took the initiative to follow Gord’s lead and help out as best as we can, so we decided to bring in some families from all the northern territories in Canada throughout the season. We’re really going to give them the five-star treatment through the entire weekend so they can really enjoy themselves and experience something that maybe they never would have because of the remote locations they’re from.”
In the summer of 2018, Hamonic also gave his time to work with Indigenous kids on Season 6 of the APTN reality television series ‘Hit the Ice’. First Nations hockey prospects were invited to partake in an intensive 14-day NHL-format training camp in front of junior hockey scouts.
Working with the Women in Need Society (WINS), the pair provide funding to help expectant lower-income single mothers and young families get the necessary, yet expensive, infant items – such as strollers, cribs, and car seats. The Flames Foundation is matching the Harmonics’ contributions dollar for dollar.
Having two charitable initiatives succeed whet the appetite of the determined Hamonic duo to do more good deeds. The day after they went shopping for their upcoming first child, they saw another opportunity to help those less fortunate. Charlie’s Children is the namesake charity of their first daughter, Charlie, who was born in May of 2018.
Hamonics Motivated to Do More
“I hadn’t been exposed to just how expensive things were and some of the expenses and some of the economic struggles people can have because of just how much stuff you need and how expensive some of the stuff really actually is,” he admitted to The Morning News on 770 CHQr in Calgary. “My wife and I – after buying some stuff one day – we kind of jumped in the car and, almost both simultaneously looked at each other and said we need to help we need to try and make a difference in this aspect, because, unfortunately, there are people who have fallen on hard times that aren’t as fortunate, as blessed as other people are.
“I think those people who are fortunate, who are blessed by God to be in a position that (money) isn’t a worry for them – I think it’s on our shoulders and their shoulders to try and help people who have fallen on a bit harder times, and so basically we are trying to raise a bunch of money, donate a bunch of money to the Women in Need Society and they can help low-income families or single mothers to be able to purchase some of the larger items that they would have to purchase to be better prepared for the birth of their child.”
Hamonic’s upbringing, background, and opportunity have all led him to his lofty perch as an NHL defenseman, and it is his life-long faith that keeps him grounded and humble, qualities he shares with his wife and family.
“The driving force behind a lot of this is our faith – both of us are extremely people of deep faith, and the way I was raised I think I always knew that you have to help – you have to help,” he said. “At the end of the day, I don’t think enough of what I do is enough, or what Stephanie and I do, I think there’s always more that we can do and there’s always more hands that you can reach and more people that you can help. We’re just trying to do our small part right now.”
Leaving a Charitable Legacy Vital to Hamonic
“I often joke that I’ll be old – the old fart one day done playing hockey and no one will really remember what I do on the ice and that’s okay. I’m blessed to play this game and take it very serious and I take my job seriously. I’m very fortunate but I do believe that we are all put on this earth for one reason – to be helping each other, to try and make a difference. At the end of my time, a long way down the road from now, I want my kids, my family to be proud of me and my wife for some of the work that we’ve done. I want maybe to be able to look back on my life and my career and know that I used some of that platform to really try and make a difference off the ice. I think that means a lot to me and a lot to my wife.”
It means a lot to the hundreds of families that the Harmonics have helped, too. More than they might ever know.
Allan is an award-winning writer, editor and journalist who has scouted high school athletes for the NCAA and MLB, and has worked in sports management and sales in professional soccer and football.