The echoes, the aftershocks still resonate for Travis Hamonic.
Sixteen years ago, he lost his father Gerald to a heart attack. In a split second, the family’s world had been turned upside down.
They sold their farm in St. Malo, Manitoba.
For a 10-year-old boy deprived of the love, mentorship and support of a parent, hockey helped at least cope with the inexplicable loss.
“It was,” he once admitted, “my form of therapy.”
And so, that boy, when all grown up, graduated to the summit of his profession and in a position to give back, felt a need to make a difference.
During most of his professional stay on Long Island, the newest Flame has hosted the D-Partner Program at Islanders’ home dates, providing rink-side seats, VIP treatment and meet-and-greets for children who’ve recently lost a parent.
The Islanders partnered with local bereavement groups such as Tuesday’s Children and the New York Polic and Fire Widows and Orphans Foundation to select the kids and families.
The initiative has been so successful and powerful, it featured on a segment of the ESPN E:60 series, titled In the Name of the Father.
“There’s been a ton of different stories, with different variations over the years,” says Hamonic.
“There’ve been probably over 250 games where we’ve had families attend. But I do remember my first year, I was young at the time, about 21, and this little guy showed up at the game, 10 years old, and he’d lost his dad earlier in the year to a heart attack, suddenly, just like me.
“There was something just so real to me about that little boy. I’ll never forget it. That’s always resonated in my mind because it so closely mirrored my own story.
“I’m so fortunate to have met so many amazing people and they’ve entrusted time to tell their story to me. It’s not easy to tell your life story, a difficult story in these cases, to someone you’ve never met.
“So it’s pretty awesome. Extremely gratifying.”
Just recently, the 26-year-old Hamonic received the NHL Foundation Award, presented to a player “who applies the core values of (ice) hockey-commitment, perseverance and teamwork-to enrich the lives of people in his community.”
“When I got to New York, first I had to establish myself on the team. When I did, I wanted the opportunity to do something to give back,” says Hamonic.
“We started this initiative, inviting kids, families, who’ve lost parents, to games. Kinda step back from their own reality for a while and enjoy the company and watch some hockey for a couple hours.
“We’re thrilled with the steps the foundation has taken. It’s been good on both sides, for myself and for the young people.
“Because whether it’s a good game, bad game, whatever happens on the ice, you can get hit with real life right away once you step off it.
“No one’s immune.”
By George Johnson