The 2011 Vancouver Canucks were one of the best teams of the post salary-cap era, and recent years have highlighted the group’s tremendous character. Even among that team, few players matched Dan Hamhuis’ fearless on-ice determination, and graceful off-ice persona. Nicknamed “the community man”, Hamhuis seemed to never do anything wrong.
Yesterday, Hamhuis announced his retirement after 16 seasons in the NHL. A reliable, defensively-oriented defenceman, Hamhuis helped round out a stacked blue-line. While July 1st of recent years has brought nightmares for Canucks fans, Hamhuis’ arrival on a hometown discount has gone down as one of the best free-agent signings in Canucks history.
Today, in honour of Dan “community man” Hamhuis’ career, we’re counting down his top five moments as a Vancouver Canuck. This isn’t easy, if Hamhuis has a highlight, it’s his lack of highlights. But, we’re going to try.
5) Hamhuis Fights Ryan Nugent Hopkins
The Canucks 2014-2015 home opener against the Edmonton Oilers marked the beginning the Jim Benning era. Acquisitions of Radim Vrbata and Ryan Miller brought reasons to believe that the 2015 Canucks may be moving towards 2011 and away from rebuilding (what happened next?)
That game brought two of the least-likely suspects together for a fight: Ryan Nugent Hopkins and Dan Hamhuis.
The funniest moment came after game, when Hamhuis commented that he hoped his daughters weren’t watching.
“I hope they weren’t in the stands for that one,” Hamhuis said. “I’ll have some explaining to do about spending some time in the naughty box.”
Hamhuis’ last prior fight? Alex Burrows in 2010.
4) Dan Hamhuis Hip-checks Douglas Murray
The stacked 2011 team brought a number of new faces, but Dan Hamhuis notably marked his arrival early in the season by introducing us to his trademark hip-check. He laid out Douglas Murray in what may be his nicest hip-check to date.
The signing was intended to replace the grit brought by Willie Mitchell. Hamhuis affirmed early on that it was a good call.
3) Hamhuis comes back from a gut-wrenching injury, and then isn’t traded
Hamhuis’ 2016 Canucks season will always be defined by what didn’t happen. A pending UFA, Hamhuis was famously held at the deadline and allowed to walk at the end of the year.
While Canucks fans loved Dan Hamhuis, it was understood that the team’s time was over. In a post-Sedin, pre-Pettersson/Hughes world, Canucks fans were looking at an awful team and an empty prospect cupboard. In need of prospects, fans were frustrated to watch the likes of Kris Russell shipped at the deadline while Hamhuis was left unwanted.
Lost in this mishap was the jaw injury Hamhuis had to overcome just to be in-play on the trade market. In a game against the New York Rangers, Hamhuis took a Dan Boyle slapshot straight to the face.
The resulting recovery saw his entire face reconstructed, and he was unable to eat solid food for a month.
Hamhuis lost 10 pounds and sat out for two months.
It was challenging ordeal from which Hamhuis returned to play out the remainder of the season.
2) The off-ice work
There are many things hockey players do personally that don’t reach the public eye. Henrik and Daniel Sedin famously needed convincing to make their $2 million donation to the Lions Gate Hospital Foundation public.
Another example came at the 2011 Sports Celebrities Festival, where everyone was introduced to one of Hamhuis’ special long-standing friends.
Hamhuis’ partner for the event, Ben Walker, was a 23-year-old from Smithers B.C with an intellectual disability. Having met in 2001, Walker referred to Hamhuis as his brother, mentor, inspiration and friend.
Walker went so far as to say “I consider myself a Hamhuis as well. I’ve been near and dear to his family and him to mine.”
Hamhuis agreed with every word.
By all accounts, Walker stole the event with a speech highlighting the generosity and friendship Hamhuis had given him over the last ten years. According to those in attendance, not a dry eye was to be had, including from Hamhuis.
In the speech Walker described how, in spite of his love for the Canucks, he shifted his loyalty to the Predators for the sake of Hamhuis.
But then, “the Canucks came to their senses and signed Dan” he said.
As he did so, he revealed a fresh Canucks tattoo on his left arm.
Off-ice work could easily be number 1), but in trademark humility, Hamhuis wouldn’t have us know it.
1) Hamhuis Hip-checks Milan Lucic
At #1, this play leaves Canucks fans wondering what could have been.
Hamhuis suffered a hernia that saw him miss the rest of the Stanley Cup finals. Watching that series, fans have since wondered if Hamhuis’ missing defensive reliability may have been the difference.
But it doesn’t take away from the fact that it was a glorious hit. Milan Lucic is one of the most villainous members of the 2011 Bruins team, and watching him get wiped out by the good guy is satisfying, to say the least.
It’s possible that when Lucic sees a wide-open net today, he has nightmare flash-backs to being upended by Dan Hamhuis.
Among other things, today’s iteration of the Vancouver Canucks is credited for their character through an enduring culture attributed to the Sedins.
Hamhuis deserves his fair share of credit. He was a fearlessly intelligent competitor on the ice and brought the dignity and grace every city looks for in high-end players.