But as the eagle leaves its nest, it’s not so far to go. — Led Zeppelin “Ten Years Gone”
It’s not uncharted territory, but almost.
Honolulu’s Lance Hamilton is the second player to go from Hawaii youth leagues to junior hockey.
Junior hockey in the U.S. is a proving ground for aspiring pro and college hockey players.
Normally on the quiet side, Hamilton showed his sense of humor and also how he is learning the ropes in mainland hockey by relating the following story.
“Against Tahoe Prep Academy (in an Under-18 game last year while playing for the Monument Hockey Academy in Colorado), I took a trip to the other team’s bench,” Hamilton said by phone last week. “They were trash-talking me before I took a penalty shot, so after I scored, I gave something back. I just gave it to them.”
Asked to elaborate further on what he told them, he added, “I don’t think I should say that now.”
The Junior Enforcers are a Tier 3 team in the U.S. Premier Hockey League for ages 18 to under-21 and players can try to advance up to Tier 2 and Tier 1. If Hamilton continues on with hockey, the possible paths are moving on up to Tier 2 or 1 (USHL), on to a college team or to a minor league pro team.
For a few years, Hawaii’s Zach Pamaylaon played in Tier 3 junior hockey for the Philadelphia RevolutionHe is now a senior going into his fourth year of ice hockey at NCAA Division III Bryn Athyn, a college in Pennsylvania.
Both Hamilton and Pamaylaon grew up playing in youth ice and inline leagues in Hawaii, most notably the Ice Palace and Kapolei Inline Hockey Arenas. A few Hawaii players before them played briefly at the NCAA D-III college level, but those two are believed to be the first to go the junior hockey route.
The Junior Enforcers are affiliated with one of the pro minor league teams — the Elmira Enforcers, who play in the Federal Prospects Hockey League.
Earlier this summer, Hamilton went to what is called a predraft camp.
“There were about 300 kids there and you have to be invited to the main camp, which has about another 300 players,” Hamilton said. “It makes everyone skate harder and want it more.”
The New Jersey Titans, another Tier 3 team, invited Hamilton to that camp. But not long after, he got a call from the Junior Enforcers and chose to play with them. Other teams offered Hamilton spots on their team as well.
“They (the Junior Enforcers) gave me a top-six forward spot,” Hamilton added. “They want me to play on the power play and want me out there a lot. They say they need a speed/skill guy to fill a role on the team. I appreciate it that they know your strengths. They saw me play in-season.”
For those in Hawaii who know Hamilton, the term speed/skill fits.
At Monument Academy, Hamilton was on the first line throughout the whole season. The year before with the Rampage, he had to work his way up to a spot on the first two lines.
“I’m happy that I got better over the season in every way,” Hamilton said. “I learned how to become an ice hockey player from a roller hockey player (he spent more time at KIHA than at Ice Palace when he was playing in Hawaii). Big difference.
“I’m always hungry to score goals,” he said. “And when I’m in front of the net, I am risking that the defense will be knocking me down when I try to score. I’ve also learned to always keep my feet moving.”
Hamilton has also worked hard at the pinpoint stops ice hockey demands more than the inline game, where it is harder to stop on a dime.
“I’ve worked a lot on stops and starts,” he said. “It was rough at first, but I think I’ve got it down.”
Pro hockey is the ultimate goal.
“If I can get there, it’d be amazing,” Hamilton said. “First pro hockey player from Hawaii.”
Hamilton knows going to college first might be the best way.
“It’s a very big gamble if you go into pro first because you can’t go back to college if you do that,” he added. “And another good thing about college is you can always fall back on a degree if hockey doesn’t work out.”
When asked what he needed to work on, Hamilton talked about overall hockey sense.
“I feel like I could always work on my hockey sense and hockey IQ,” he said. “Everyone can improve in that, even NHL guys. To always be constantly thinking about passing lanes, what I’m going to do before I’m going to get the puck, never force a play that you don’t like. Otherwise, I’m stuck.”
In his two seasons away from Hawaii, Hamilton said making the league’s All-Star game a year ago was his highlight so far.
“They selected 40 people to play in that game,” he said. “The league has about 500 players and I was the only one from my team who made it.”
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At the Tier 3 level, players pay a fee to play a season and it includes airfare. Hamilton is also paying to stay with a billet family. He has a room to himself and gets food every day. He will get a bit of money from the team for certain expenses.
Unless the COVID-19 health crisis gets in the way, Hamilton will be attending the Junior Enforcers’ four-week training camp starting Sept. 1. He expects the approximately 50-game season to start in October and run into April.