by Andrew J. Ferraro || AHL On The Beat
Houston Aeros forward Ryan Hamilton had one of those junior careers that just got better every season.
The drive was there. The development was taking shape, and when Hamilton played his last game with the Barrie Colts in 2005-06, he was signed by the Aeros and joined the team for the playoffs that season.
Hamilton’s junior season ended after tallying eight goals and 17 points in the OHL playoffs, and the undrafted winger joined the Aeros, who were coming off a successful regular-season campaign, finishing second in the West Division and sweeping the Peoria Rivermen in the first round of the playoffs.
He only saw one game before Houston was ousted by the Milwaukee Admirals. But Hamilton’s pro career was officially underway.
In his first two years of juniors, Hamilton did not score a goal in 15 games. That was with the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors where he played with the likes of Nathan Paetsch (Buffalo Sabres) and Tomas Fleischmann (Washington Capitals).
A move to the OHL proved better for the 6-foot-2, 219-pound kid from Oshawa, Ont.
He scored three goals his first year, scored a combined 30 in his next two seasons and then led the Colts in goals with 46 in 2005-06. The scoring touch was there, which helped him get a contract with the Aeros.
Fast forward to 2007-08. The Aeros have a new head coach, a new system and a new sense of passion and accountability.
Now Hamilton is counted on to score the dirty goals for the Aeros, who do not rate high in the AHL in terms of offense.
Houston head coach Kevin Constantine did not get a chance to work with Hamilton before this season. But he likes what he sees more and more all the time.
“The goals he’s scoring this year are the type of goals that he can score because he is the type of player that is fearless going in front of the net,” Constantine said. “And he is strong. His game is all about using his assets and his assets are his strength and his hands. So he is the kind of player that has to get to the net to do that.”
In his first full professional season, Hamilton scored seven goals and added nine assists for the Aeros, who fell out of the playoff race in February and missed the postseason for just the second time in team history.
Hamilton has already surpassed his rookie year total with 11 goals and 17 assists in 56 games. He lit the lamp in three straight games from Mar. 4-9 as the Aeros defeated the Providence Bruins, Hartford Wolf Pack and Rochester Americans.
He said he worked hard in the offseason with the hopes to improve personally and get the Aeros back to the playoffs.
“I really set my mind to working my butt off during the summer time,” Hamilton said. “I wanted to establish my role with the team early on and do whatever I can do each night to help the team win.”
The career-high goals, Hamilton said, is nice. With more playing time and more time in prime situations the goals are going to come for him. But there is not a certain magic number that he is looking for to justify his season.
“You really try not to set any specific numbers out there coming in to the season,” Hamilton said. “But, yeah, it is definitely nice to see your name on the scoresheet putting some goals in the net.
“Like I said, I just have to do whatever I can do to contribute.”
Constantine is impressed with Hamilton’s ability to dig pucks out of the corner and play hard in front of the net.
If the Aeros are going to quality for a spot in the postseason in the tough West Division, they need Hamilton and his ability to convert the garbage into goals and into wins.
“He has gone through a few lulls here and there during the season, but overall he has been pretty steady for us,” Constantine said. “Coming into training camp, and watching from there until now, I think he has done a great job of figuring out what he is good at in the game and then bringing that to the game and then working on that and everything else in his game.”
Andrew J. Ferraro covers the Houston Aeros for the Houston Chronicle