We’re gonna get to that place where we really want to go. — Bruce Springsteen “Born To Run”
One more year of ice hockey is in the books for Hawaii’s Lance Hamilton. It was a time of learning and playing an important supporting role for the Elmira (N.Y.) Junior Enforcers.
Next season, starting with junior hockey camps this summer, his goal is to continue to improve and make his mark as an indispensable and well-rounded player who has immense offensive punch.
The potential is there, and Lance knows that getting to that promised land will take a lot of work.
“I see myself scoring a lot more points,” said the kid, now 20, who grew up playing at the Ice Palace and Kapolei Inline Hockey Arenas.
Speed is not an issue. Hamilton has that and then some. He has always been one of the fastest — and sometimes the fastest — skaters at his level and at speed competitions in Hawaii and mainland tournaments.
Lance Hamilton, wearing his trademark No. 66 jersey. (Photos courtesy of Lance Hamilton).
Lance is confident that his shot is already at a high level, too. He has proven he can (when given the opportunity to play a scoring role on the top two lines) be a sniper.
“And I can work on stick handling even more,” Hamilton said. “I want to (develop the skills) of a guy like Connor MacDavid (Edmonton Oilers), who is incredible at moving his hands and feet at same time. That could make me so much more effective offensively. I already have the speed and shot for it.”
At practices, the Elmira coach would give 10 to 15 minutes for players to work on self development.
“I would spend that time, high intensity in the neutral zone, stick handling and keeping my head up.” Hamilton added. “It’s helping me.”
Lance Hamilton, mixing it up in front of the net.
Being in top-top shape during the season also was not a problem for Hamilton.
“We would have two practices with a (dry land) workout in between,” he said. “We were the best conditioned team in the league.”
The Junior Enforcers, a Tier 3 junior team, got pretty far in the 10-team Mid-Atlantic division of the United States Premier Hockey League, placing second with a 28-14-2 record and winning two out of three playoff games to get to the 16-team overall season-ending, multi-league championship tournament.
After a 4-2 pool-play victory over the Metro Jets (Fraser Michigan), Elmira stumbled to a 9-3 loss to the Charleston (S.C.) Colonials and that pretty much kept the Junior Enforcers from advancing. The squad ended its season in a 1-0 loss to the Northern Cyclones (Hudson, N.H.), a team that continued on to the semifinals.
“When we lost to the Colonials, nobody showed up, nobody played their game,” Lance said.
A rookie on a first-year team, Hamilton scored five goals with five assists for 10 points, but said the referees missed five of his assists — a common refrain from those who put a premium on play-making ability in a world full of eyes glued to the goal scorer.
“Playing on this team was a huge step up from my last teams (Monument Academy prep school in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the Colorado Rampage in 18-U AAA),” he said.
Lance Hamilton is hoping to make it to Tier 2 junior hockey.
Due to COVID-19, the USPHL was flooded with players from a higher level moving down because their own leagues were canceled.
During the season, Hamilton said, the Junior Enforcers had about 50 different skaters, with people coming and going. They were allowed to keep 30 at a time, with 22 or 21 suiting up. Sometimes healthy players were scratched for games because of the large roster.
Only one time, though, did Hamilton get a healthy scratch. It was, he said, a way for the coach to light a fire under him and one of his friends, who had been coming off a lackluster performance.
“We really wanted to get back in the next game,” he added.
Hamilton was super happy with the way all of his teammates had a winning and unselfish attitude.
“The line I was on changed a lot throughout the season,” he said. “Early, it was the second line, but then we got (an influx) of Canadians who had played in a higher league. So after that, it was mostly third and fourth line for me.”
One of Hamilton’s roles as a speedster was as someone who could get the puck in the defensive zone and skate it out of trouble.
“And then I wouldn’t have to dump it much because I could normally beat the ‘D,’ ” Hamilton said. “Another role was back-checking. When the ‘D’ was in trouble, I would get on my horse and catch a man on the odd-man rush. The first two lines are scoring lines. When I was on the third and fourth line, our job was to shut down the opponents’ top line.”
Hamilton was also counted on as a penalty killer, a skill that KIHA hockey director Jami Yoder teaches extremely well.
Lance Hamilton, preparing for a draw.
The next step up if Hamilton can get there is the North American Hockey League, a Tier 2 junior league.
“I have two invites to camps — the Northeast Generals and the New Jersey Titans — in July, but I can only go to one because they’re on the same weekend,” he said.
The 2020-21 season allowed Hamilton to get a look at what type of players were on the top two lines: “They’re always on the ice and are always having fun since they love the game and work hard and never slouch in any practice. They’re dominant on the ice. All fast, all great stickhandling, great IQ. You might not think they can see you, but they can hit you (with a pass) right on the tape. They all average at least a point a game.”
That description could potentially be used for Hamilton himself. For him as he grows and strives for college or pro hockey, it might just be a matter of HOW MUCH HE WANTS IT. Since he started playing hockey, as many in Hawaii can attest, there’s hardly ever been a time that he wasn’t working on his hockey skills.
For two seasons in a row, Lance Hamilton has scored a goal in his first game.
As for a highlight this season?
“Probably the first game — when I scored the second goal of game,” Hamilton said. “I was really proud because it was my first game of juniors. I was like, ‘Wow, I love this.’ I scored my first goal in the first game last season, too, so I was also like, ‘Wow it happened again.’ ” Both goals were on really nice shots — from the blue line two years ago and from the top of the circle this season.”
There are many well-wishers in Hawaii who want to see Lance go far. And to steal a line from a famous play — um, which happens to be called “Hamilton” — we hope that he’s singing in his head: “I’M NOT GONNA GIVE AWAY MY SHOT.”
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