After three seasons of watching his friends and teammates approach their twenty-yr-old season with bound determination and reckless abandon, fourth-year forward Richard Hamula has the added air of apprehension in his stride as the 2002-03 WHL season opened over the weekend.
Throughout his career, both at the major junior level and the preceding minor hockey rep seasons, Hamula has always made, or in some cases not made, hockey teams based purely on his ability and work ethic.
Although that fact isn’t entirely in dispute, for Hamula, who’ll turn 21 on January 28, it isn’t the only gauge judging him.
Father time, if at the tender age of twenty such an adage can be used, and the limit of three twenty-yr-olds per WHL team is working against the popular veteran.
Coming off the Edmonton native’s best junior season that saw Hamula notch 16 goals, 12 assists and spend the lion’s share of the campaign on the number one line with Jarret Stoll and Duncan Milroy, Hamula is focused on the task of being including in the club’s troika of overagers but admits the prospect of leaving the only major junior club he’s ever known, weighs heavy on him.
“Yeah, actually most of the summer it’s been on my mind a little bit,” said Hamula who first broke into Kootenay’s lineup as a rookie at the beginning of the 1999-2000 season. “I try not to let it affect me or bother me too much but I think it’s actually helped to push myself.”
“I’ve been really trying. I want to make this team.”
Hamula, along with fellow teammates Girard Dicaire, Brennan Evans, Shaun Norrie and Colin Sinclair are all vying for the three coveted spots.
Although history would suggest that the two defensemen in Dicaire and Evans stand a good chance of securing spots due to their experience at the position alone and the club’s perceived lack of depth without them, two seasons ago rearguard Dion Lassu was a lock to anchor the club’s blueline only to find himself part of a blockbuster deal that saw Lassu and Brad Tutschek go to Seattle for Bret Dececco.
What an overage player might garner in return plays into any team’s twenty-yr-old equation, something Hamula’s not counting on, nor can he control.
“They’re going to do what’s best for the team,” said Hamula. “Whatever happens I’ll be fine with but hopefully I can still stick around here.”
Besides the fact that he’s in competition for a spot with teammates he’s become close with over the past few seasons, if the accepted norm is that the two d-men in Dicaire and Evans stay, the one remaining spot becomes a three-way dogfight among close friends Norrie, Sinclair and Hamula.
The latter two best friends since they both made the club in 1999.
“It is bit of a competition and it’s tough because we’re really good friends and we’ve been good friends for the past three years now,” said Hamula of Sinclair who was still on a pro tryout with the Edmonton Oilers.
“But like I said, whatever happens, happens. If he stays here and I get traded I’ll be fine with that and if he goes it’ll be tough to see him leave but the team has to do whatever’s best for the team.”
If the prospect of being dealt does present itself, Hamula is optimistic his career will survive and even thrive past the cozy confines of the Key City.
Another close friend in Tyler Beechey faced the same prospect last season and after a deal that saw Beechey head to the Calgary Hitmen in exchange for Shaun Norrie, Beechey led the Hitmen in scoring and earned himself a pro contract from the St. Louis Blues where he’s currently in the club’s affiliate training camp with the Worcester IceCats of the AHL after being sent down by the big club earlier in the week.
“Two years ago Tutschek left and last year Beechey left and I was good friends with both those guys. It was hard to see them go,” said Hamula.
“But at the same time they went to their respective teams and had awesome seasons. Beechey did great things in Calgary and Tutschek did great in Seattle. Just looking at what they’ve done with other teams I think I can do that with another team too.”
“I guess I’m a little nervous about it sometimes,” admitted Hamula. “But I don’t want it to bother me or affect me too much on the ice. I’ve never been traded before and this is the only place I’ve known and I love it here.
“I don’t want to go anywhere else but if something does happen, everyone else that has left has had pretty good years and I’ll make the most of it, I guess.”
Quick Hits – The league-mandated deadline for clubs to name their three overage players in October 10 . . .
The first NHL Draft rankings of the 2002-03 season by the independent scouting service, The Red Line Report was released this past week and Kootenay’s first year import, center Michal Polak appeared in the number 85 spot. The Red Line Report is an independent scouting service out of Lake Placid, New York.