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Hamonic Recounts Gruesome Night

Islanders defenseman looks back on the most painful injury of his career, and the agonizing recovery

Thursday, 07.19.2012 / 4:50 PM / News
By Travis Betts
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Hamonic Recounts Gruesome Night
Islanders defenseman looks back on the most painful injury of his career, and the agonizing recovery
Travis Hamonic remembers it vividly.

He was standing in front of the net during the third period of a February 4 contest at Nassau Coliseum against the Buffalo Sabres, watching Buffalo defenseman Christian Ehrhoff wind up the shot from the point. A routine play – one that happens countless times every game. Ehrhoff’s shot was headed to Hamonic’s left, but the puck deflected off a stick and changed direction.

“I turned my face basically right into the puck and took the puck on the inside of the nose,” Hamonic said. “At that point, you don’t really know what’s going on. Your face is ringing. It’s an indescribable pain that I had to live through. You go down right away.”

The 21-year-old dropped to his knees and buried his face in his hands.

“I wasn’t looking exactly at him when it happened,” Hamonic’s defense partner Andrew MacDonald said. “I tried to track the puck with my eyes, but when I turned around, he was on his way down. You could obviously tell right away that he took it in the face. Immediately, his gloves were off and they blew the whistle right away.”

Always a warrior, Hamonic tried to skate to the bench on his own.

“I looked up at the bench and did about two 360s on the ice,” Hamonic said. “I’m not sure why I tried to get up. The trainer came out and I just remember moving my hands and seeing the pool of blood that was in my hands. At that moment I realized it was pretty scary and that it was in fact pretty serious. I kept asking the trainer if my nose was there. It sounds kind of funny now, but I just kept asking if it was in place, because it felt like my nose had been ripped right off or something.”

Hamonic’s mother, Lisa, was watching the game from her home in St. Malo, MB, over 1500 miles away. Though she knew she raised a tough hockey player – a 6’2, 203-pound force on the Islanders blue line – she felt helpless watching her son sustain such a horrific injury.

“I was making a cup of tea and I turned around to see the hit and Travis go down,” Ms. Hamonic said. “When they went to a commercial right away, I had a horrible feeling in my stomach and tried to remain calm, but my heart just started to race.”

Travis wasn’t yet aware the puck broke his nose and would eventually require intensive reconstructive surgery. In fact, he was chomping at the bit to return to action.

“Everyone just kind of kept telling me at first that I had a really bad cut on my nose,” Hamonic said. “So I told them, ‘Fine, stitch me up. I want to go.’ I think there were about 12 minutes left in the game at that point. It was a 3-2 game and I was actually arguing with the doctors and the training staff to let me go back on the ice and play. Obviously, they said no.”

Amid a swarm of doctors in the team medical room, Hamonic knew he had to get a message back home to his biggest fan.

“I knew that my mom would be back home pretty scared, watching the whole thing unfold on TV,” Hamonic said. “I had our Director of Communications give her a call just to tell her I was alright.”

“It was only a couple of minutes, but it felt like an hour,” Ms. Hamonic said. “It was slow motion for me and I remember I was pacing with the phone in my hand. I kept staring at it and just prayed someone would call me to let me know how he really was.”

The doctors packed Hamonic’s nose with gauze to stop the bleeding and an ambulance took him to a local hospital.

Nothing could keep me away. I was looking at the flights online when the Islanders called – they had booked a flight for me already. - Lisa Hamonic

“I finally walked my way all the way through the tunnel to the ambulance,” Hamonic said. “It turns out one of the paramedics was a great guy. I didn’t really focus on how much pain I was in because we were talking the whole time. I got to the hospital and a lot of the staff were sitting there waiting for me; they knew what was happening. I got rushed into the emergency room right away.”

For the next hour, doctors, nurses and plastic surgeons came and went from Hamonic’s hospital room, evaluating the situation.

“They were prepping me for surgery that next morning,” Hamonic said. “The whole time, I was just trying to communicate to my girlfriend, my brother, my sisters and my mom back home that I was ok and that it wasn’t that severe. I remember my girlfriend and my mom wanted to fly out right away and I just kept saying I’d be fine, that it was no big deal.”

Lisa, a full-time nurse, was trying to gather as much information about her son’s condition as possible.

“Travis was in the ER and I had already talked to the surgeon,” Ms. Hamonic said. “I just wanted to hear his voice. He was so groggy and just kept telling me he was going to be ok. I had to be calm because I knew it was serious and I didn't want him to be more upset. I tried to keep my voice even, but inside I was struggling not to lose control and cry.”

Lisa informed Travis’s brother and sisters that she was headed to New York right away.

“I knew I was going the minute the surgeon told me what was wrong and how extensive the surgery would be,” Ms. Hamonic said. “Nothing could keep me away. I was looking at the flights online when the Islanders called – they had booked a flight for me already. I cried with relief and gratitude. I was so upset, trying frantically to get to New York and here they had made arrangements for me already.”

Travis eventually learned he would undergo surgery. Because he had been eating and hydrating throughout the game, he had to wait several hours for the operation.

“It was a long night in the hospital,” Hamonic said. “I remember being pretty nervous in the surgery, but I’m a pretty religious guy. I said a couple of prayers and figured everything was going to be fine. By the time I woke up from surgery, my mom was there waiting for me. She’s a nurse, so she was there and was able to look after me.”

That was probably the hardest 10 days that I’ve had. We were in a playoff hunt and I just wanted to be on the ice playing. It was a difficult process. - Travis Hamonic

“I arrived late in the night and when I opened his room I was horrified to see his face and a group of doctors and nurses around him,” Ms. Hamonic said. “His face was distorted and he was in severe pain. I cried, but was so grateful to God that he hadn't lost his vision or gotten more seriously injured.”

Following the procedure, several Islanders players and staff members stopped by the hospital to see how their teammate felt.

“Some of the guys came in the next day to check on me after my surgery,” Hamonic said. “Our trainer was there as well. By that point my mom was there, so it didn’t seem like I had a lot of time alone. A lot of people were coming in and out. It just shows how close of a team we’ve got when everyone is looking out for each other.”

Hamonic stayed in the hospital for five more days with his mom by his side, watching the Islanders next two games on TV from his bed. He had to keep gauze and tubes in his nose for almost two weeks after the surgery to ensure his nose healed properly.

“The severity of the pain every day with the packing and the tubes all the way in my nose, it was very frustrating, just the annoyance of it all,” Hamonic said. “And I looked pretty ridiculous. It was tough to go out in public, but the moment that those tubes and the packing came out, I felt like a whole new person. That was probably the hardest 10 days that I’ve had. We were in a playoff hunt and I just wanted to be on the ice playing. It was a difficult process.”

Hamonic returned to the ice less than three weeks later, wearing a full cage at the request of the medical staff. He hardly missed a beat and tallied three assists in his first two games back. For Hamonic, who only operates in fifth gear, fear was never an option.

“That didn’t cause me to shy away from anything,” Hamonic said. “These injuries are going to happen. It’s in my DNA, and as a hockey player, you don’t shy away from stuff. You know what you’re getting yourself into. You have to roll with the punches and just hope that it doesn’t happen again. I almost used the cage to my advantage. I was maybe trying to dive in front of more shots than usual.”

MacDonald, who patrolled the blue line with Hamonic for most of the 2011-12 season, had actually suffered a broken nose the previous season and was able to add comic relief to the situation.

“I always told him it was karma for chirping me so much about having to wear the cage the year before,” MacDonald said. “I think he learned his lesson that you can’t really give guys a hard time if they wear the cage.”

Hamonic finished the season without any complications from his injury or the subsequent surgery. The gauze and tubes have been replaced by a faint scar and slight bump. Looking back, Hamonic feels blessed, knowing the injury could have been career-ending.

“I think at that moment there was something bigger than me that was moving my head in the right direction and was making sure that I didn’t take it in the eye,” Hamonic said. “I’m grateful that I could bounce back and I know that there were some angels watching over me.”

PHOTOS: HAMONIC IN THE COMMUNITY | DINNER WITH HAMONIC

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