Adirondack’s Hamel joining elite crowd

by Bob Rotruck || AHL On The Beat Archive

Denis Hamel is still lighting the lamps as well as anybody in the American Hockey League.

He leads the Adirondack Phantoms with 10 goals and 21 points and it is a position he’s familiar with: He also led Adirondack in 2010-11 with 25 goals an 50 points.

And in his six AHL seasons prior to arriving in Adirondack, he was the all-time leading scorer in Binghamton Senators history. Before that, he was cranking up his powerful slap shot for the Rochester Americans in a professional career that began in 1997.

Hamel’s most recent goal was a long empty-netter on Friday night to seal a 5-1 Phantoms win at the Norfolk Admirals. The goal puts him in the same company with another Adirondack hockey great, Glenn Merkosky. Now with 325 career goals apiece, Hamel and Merkosky are tied for 12th all-time on the AHL leaderboard.

Merkosky played 11 professional seasons, including six with the Adirondack Red Wings from 1985-91 where he won a pair of Calder Cup championships in 1986 and 1989. His uniform number 15 was retired on Dec. 22, 1993, and continues to decorate the rafters of the Glens Falls Civic Center. He was inducted into the inaugural class of the Adirondack Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010.

Merkosky’s numbers with Adirondack were strikingly similar to Hamel’s stats with Binghamton. Merkosky scored 204 goals with the Red Wings; Hamel scored 203 goals as Binghamton’s all-time leading scorer.
Merkosky’s top season was a 54-goal campaign in 1986-87 to lead the league; Hamel accomplished the same feat 19 years later with a 56-goal campaign in 2005-06.

Now a scout for the Detroit Red Wings, Merkosky has enjoyed all the coverage of the Denis Hamel chase of his spot on the goal-scoring leaderboard. He even paused to take a trip down memory lane when he was first informed of the countdown.

"It’s actually pretty interesting," Merkosky said. "Adirondack was playing in Rochester and I was scouting at the game and somebody had mentioned it (the Hamel countdown) to me. Sometimes you feel like you’ve been away from the game for so long you almost forget you ever played. So I watched that whole game in a little bit of a different light. I was thinking to myself how it was sure fun playing hockey back in those days. It was a great, little bit of a flashback moment for me."

Hamel admits that for him, it’s all about enjoying the game itself and not the milestones. He has decided this may be his last season playing professionally in the game he loves and he wants to savor every moment.

“I hear about it (the pursuit of Merkosky’s 325 goals) and read about it, but I try not to think of that. I’m just here to play hockey and do the best I can,” said Hamel. "This year is my 15th year and I’m thinking maybe about retiring after this season so I just want to do the best I can for my last year."

In a matter of weeks, Hamel will pass another impressive milestone when he plays in his 1,000th career professional game. He is currently at 990 games played, including 798 in the AHL and 192 in the NHL with Buffalo, Ottawa, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

Merkosky had many compliments for Hamel’s abilities and career.

"Obviously being a scout, I’ve watched Denis play for a lot of years and he’s such a tremendous goal scorer. Certainly congratulations to him."

Like several of the former Adirondack Red Wings greats — including current Phantoms head coach Joe Paterson — Merkosky continues to reside in the Glens Falls area watching today’s stars such as Hamel continue the rich hockey tradition of the region.

"We ex-players laugh and talk about it now," Merkosky said. "We were young players then and we end up driving to some little town in northern New York and wondering exactly where we’re going. And now it’s home for us. Guys like Greg Joly still live here full-time. Pete Mahovlich is my neighbor. It’s been a great place to live and a great place to bring up a family."