The rules on the ice are the same, but life in the pro ranks is a new world for Curtis Hamilton.
After four seasons of major junior, the Kelowna minor product is gradually adjusting to the nuances of playing in the American Hockey League with the Oklahoma City Barons.
For one thing, Hamilton no longer has any teenaged teammates.
“It’s a totally different environment than I’m used to, for sure,” said Hamilton, who turned 20 on Dec. 4. “The guys are older, some are married or have girlfriends, some have kids, so you’re playing out there playing with dads. Some guys are in their 30s so they’ve played a lot of hockey. It’s a big learning curve, but it’s been a pretty cool experience so far.”
Growing up in a hockey family—his dad Bruce is the Kelowna Rockets’ GM—not much of the first three months of his pro career has surprised the younger Hamilton.
Still, there are adjustments the 6-foot-2, 205-pound winger knows he has to make to keep his pro career on track.
“The hockey is harder, it’s faster and the guys are all stronger and more experienced,” said Hamilton, a second round draft choice of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers in 2010. “Off the ice, you have to work hard in the gym to keep up. Keeping up the training, improving your strength and quickness at the same time, it’s important.”
Another adjustment for Hamilton is the reduction in ice time compared to his junior days with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades, particularly last season when he played well over 20 minutes a night and in all situations.
Hamilton has dressed for 20 of the Barons’ first 27 games this season.
“That’s the hard part, not playing in every game,” he said. “But you have to be patient and work hard and look at the big picture. If I do that, then hopefully good things will happen.”
Not surprisingly, points have also been harder to come by for Hamilton in the AHL, a league known for its defensive-oriented style where a small minority of players actually average a point per game or more.
Hamilton, who 82 points last season with the Blades, has a goal and five assists with the Barons.
His first pro marker came Nov. 25 against Grand Rapids.
“It was a big relief to get that one, it was a big stretch between goals for me,” said Hamilton. “After scoring quite a bit in junior, it’s definitely been an adjustment. When the chances come, you have to make good on them because you don’t get a lot. Hopefully more will come.”
Hamilton’s progress through the first 2 1/2 months of his pro career has come under the watchful eye of Todd Nelson. The Barons’ head coach said Hamilton has been a relatively quick study.
“It usually takes some time to develop some consistency at the pro level and time to adjust, but Curtis is making the transition a little quicker than expected,” said Nelson. “At the start he was maybe a little tentative, but he’s figuring things out. He’s a big body, he’s using that more consistently in the corners and his compete level along the walls is getting better. He thinks the game well, that comes natural to him. It’s just a case of refining parts of his game.”
For Hamilton’s part, improving on a daily basis continues to be the primary aim as he chases his goal of one day playing for the Edmonton Oilers—not unlike most of his teammates with the Barons.
“We all want to get there eventually, that’s the reason we’re here,” Hamilton said. “I’m taking it day by day right now, learning everything I can and showing them what I can do.
“Eventually, most of us will get a shot. You just need to make the most if it when it does come along.”
But for now, Hamilton will continue to adapt to the life of a pro in Oklahoma City, along with fellow 20-year-old and roommate Tyler Pitlick.
Off the ice, Hamilton is also learning more about the realities of personal independence—including the level of his culinary skills.
“My cooking’s not that bad, it’s actually improving bit by bit,” Hamilton said with a laugh. “The idea is to keep it simple, and it seems to be working.”
Hamilton and the Barons return to action Saturday night they host the Houston Aeros.