This was not the first time Dougie Hamilton had been exiled to the press box. Earlier this season he was banished for two games, and also he was sent there for two rounds of the playoffs last season. He knows what it’s like to sit and watch, and he knows, too, how to handle it.
“I’m more used to it now,” Hamilton said. “Obviously, it’s not fun not playing, but I think I got to learn a lot last year through that whole playoff run, and I know more what to expect and what’s expected of me.
“Just trying to get my game to a trustworthy playoff-[level] game in this last month or so. Hopefully, I can do that and, I guess, earn a spot.”
There are 17 games left in which to do that. Now that the Bruins have eight defensemen — courtesy of the additions of Andrej Meszaros and Corey Potter — the coaching staff has the luxury of picking and choosing, of working on defensive pairings, of motivating through healthy scratches, and through competition.
Hamilton knows that. The 20-year old was the first to get a seat with the Bruins ready to insert Meszaros into the lineup against the Panthers Sunday. He was out again Wednesday with Boston in Montreal, but returned Thursday, ceding his seat on the ninth floor to Torey Krug in Boston’s 2-1 win.
Hamilton played 17:05, with only Meszaros (15:33) getting fewer minutes among the blue liners.
But Hamilton is not complaining. Rather, he is doing his best to stay confident during a potentially uncertain time.
“I think because he trusts us,” coach Claude Julien said. “Like I’ve told him and we’ve told him as a coaching staff the whole time, he’s a good player and he’s going to be an even better player as we move on here. What we’ve asked him is just to be patient with us — because he came in here as a 19-year-old.
“A 19-year-old on a team that’s rebuilding is going to play a ton. A 19-year-old that’s on an established team doesn’t get that same luxury, but he gets the luxury of developing in a winning environment and finding out quickly what it takes to win. So, he’s in a good situation.”
That situation includes time watching from above, time talking to coaches, time studying what he is doing and what he could be doing better. He knows his game isn’t perfect and that there are ways he can and needs to improve.
“Just trying to add different things to my game,” Hamilton said. “The coaches talked to me and told me certain things to add and I think there’s been things all year that I’ve been working on and trying to improve. And I think I just have to keep adding more and keep getting ready so I can play in the playoffs.”
That’s all Hamilton can do at the moment. He can’t lobby Julien for more time or ask back in the lineup. The Bruins need to take a look at their options as they spend the final month of the regular season readying for the postseason.
“I think it brings a lot of good competition on the back end,” Zdeno Chara said. “It’s something that necessarily doesn’t mean that the guy who’s sitting out is playing poorly. Maybe the coaching staff is looking for different pairings and different types of situations that we could use later on.”
And that’s what Hamilton has to remember as he works to retain his confidence. He said he has been happy with his performance since the Olympic break — with the exception of the Tampa Bay game last Saturday — and the idea for now is “just try to keep playing my game and add things that they want.”
But he said, “You really can’t think about that too much.”
Not only has Hamilton improved on the ice in the past year, in the year since he found himself watching much of the Bruins’ run to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, but he also understands the situation better. He knows he’s young. He knows he has things to learn. He believes he knows what he needs to do.
“It’s a matter of just being patient,” Julien said. “He comes in tonight, plays a good game. He moved that puck well, he was assertive, all the little things you talk about. You can see that effort in him. So that’s what it is. It’s trust, it’s respect, and that has to be both ways here.”