Dan Hamhius is enjoying life as a full-time Smithereen again.
Back living in his Smithers hometown, four hours west of Prince George, the former Prince George Cougar defenceman is now more than a year into retirement after 16 seasons in the NHL with Nashville, Vancouver and Dallas.
Sure he misses the game and the camaraderie of his teammates on the ice, but he doesn’t miss the aches and pains of an NHL season that come with the job, once described by Eric Brewer, his partner in the Cougars’ ownership group, “like getting into a car accident 82 times a year.”
Now that he’s retired at age 38, “Hammer” has time on his hands to spend with his wife Sarah and their three young daughters, Anna, 13, Morgan, 11, and nine-year-old Brooke.
They’ve always kept a summer home in Smithers, close to Hamhuis’s parents, Marty and Ida, but now they also spend their winters there and for Dan that’s opened up regular access to a snow-covered piece of paradise known as Hudson Bay Mountain, which fuels his love for adrenaline sports as a downhill skier and mountain biker.
“It’s a good transition and we’ve enjoyed it, we have lots to do there,” said Hamhuis, among about a dozen former Cats who played in the Prince George Cougars Alumni Million Dollar Hole-in-One Charity Golf Tournament this past weekend at the Prince George Golf and Curling Club.
“It’s nice being in a town where you know people and we have family there. I’ve had fun trying out new activities I never really had a chance to do while playing, skiing being a big one in the winter. I never did much of that before. I did a lot of backcountry (cross-country skiing) as well and lots of biking in the summertime.”
Golf is not one of his usual pastimes.
“I don’t play at all,” he said.
It was too risky doing much outside of hockey during his playing days, especially after he signed his first pro contract when he was selected 12th overall in the 2001 NHL draft by the Nashville Predators.
“It was in our contracts that if you get hurt doing (other) stuff your contract would be void,” he said.
He coached Morgan in hockey last winter in Smithers and now that he’s no longer under any obligation to train like the world-class athlete he was he can pick and choose his own activities and take part in sports he couldn’t do as a hockey player, just for the fun of it. He’s there at home for family birthdays or to watch his kids’ events at school, which wasn’t an option during his playing days.
Hamhuis enjoyed coaching the girls’ team in Smithers and wouldn’t rule out taking his knowledge of the game back to an NHL bench if the right offer comes along to join the coaching fraternity.
“Maybe down the road, but right now the focus is spending time with family because you don’t get that time back,” he said.
Hamhuis spent four years with the Cougars, from 1998-2002, and was the WHL player of the year and CHL defenceman of the year in his final junior season. He went on to a stellar pro career, collecting 59 goals and 297 assists for 356 regular season points in 1,148 games. He also played 68 NHL playoff games and had three goals and 21 points.
“Towards the end of the career it just gets hard to be healthy and get your body in the spot it needs to be to perform at the NHL level every day,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, a lot of maintenance and it’s kind of nice to have a break from that.
“I never expected to play as long as I did so that was a lot of fun. It’s all the people you come across all those years too, coaches, players, management. It provided lots of good travel experiences too, in the NHL through North America and all the international experiences with (Team) Canada was pretty cool, just to see different countries and meet new guys again.”
Hamhuis never won the Stanley Cup, getting as close as Game 7 of the 2011 final which ended in heartbreak with a loss to the Boston Bruins. He did win Olympic gold in Sochi, Russia in 2014, as well as two IIHF world championships (2007 and 2015), world championship silver twice (2008, 2009) and two world junior championship medals (bronze in 2001, silver in 2002).
The Cougars put the alumni tournament together on five weeks notice and it didn’t have the high profile it usually does with autograph sessions and players auctioned off to the highest bidders. The event, a fundraiser for the Spirit of the North Healthcare Foundation, was cancelled entirely in 2020.
The fundraising total from Saturday’s tournament won’t be made public until September. The 2019 tournament raised $75,000 and since the it began in 2002 more than $558,000 has been raised to pay for medical equipment at UHNBC.
Three Cougars named to Hockey Canada U18 camp
For the first time in team history, three Cougar players have been invited to Hockey Canada’s under-18 summer development camp. Forwards Koehn Ziemmer, 16, and Kyren Gronick, 17, as well as defenceman Keaton Dowhaniuk are among 45 players from across Canada who will participate camp, July 25-Aug. 4 in Calgary. The camp usually serves as the tryouts for the Hlinka Gretzky Cup but this year Canada will not participate in the international tournament due to the pandemic.