Jeff Hamilton ’01, one of the greats of Yale hockey, played his first National Hockey League game for the New York Islanders Dec. 2, a 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals.
The call up to the big show came after Hamilton received the Sher-wood American Hockey League Player of the Week award while playing for the Islanders’ minor league affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. During that week, Hamilton posted four goals and an assist in three wins for the Sound Tigers. Two of the goals were game-winners, including the deciding goal in a 4-3 overtime victory over Lowell.
So far this season, Hamilton leads the AHL in goals with 17 and is third in point standings with 25. His outstanding play has propelled the Sound Tigers, who are unbeaten in 16 games, to first place in the AHL.
Although Hamilton was recalled to Bridgeport after the Islanders loss to the Washington Capitals, it was an impressive achievement for a player of Hamilton’s size.
Standing at only 5-foot-10-inches and tipping the scales at 185 lbs., Hamilton is very small for a league dominated by massive players. His puck-handling ability and outstanding shot compensate for his small build.
Steven Conn, Yale’s director of sports publicity, watched most of Hamilton’s games at Yale and was amazed with what he saw.
“[Hamilton's shot] was just a snap and the puck is heading towards the corner of the net,” Conn said. “If it didn’t hit the net, it is making a sound off the board, that makes you go, ‘Oh my goodness, this guy can really shoot the puck.’”
Eli head coach Tim Taylor also remembers Hamilton’s shot and scoring ability.
“He had a passion and knack to score goals and produce offense,” Taylor said. “When I think of Jeff Hamilton, I think of his great release and his fantastic shot. Even at the pro level he has a release, one-time shot, and a knack for scoring that is enabling him to compete at that level.”
The seniors on the hockey team this year played with Hamilton when they were freshmen, and they speak freely about his skills as a player.
“Bottom line, he just loved hockey,” captain Vin Hellemeyer ’04 said. “Any time when the ice was available, he was out there. He was a guy you could really bank on to get the job done. He’s got one of the best shots I’ve ever seen. When he started playing last year at Bridgeport, we were all pretty confident that he would get called up.”
Hamilton’s impact on Yale hockey is readily apparent. In his sophomore year he led the Bulldogs to ECAC and Ivy League championships. In his junior year, the Bulldogs again captured the Ivy League title. In the 1999-2000 season, Hamilton sat out with an abdominal injury and his presence was sorely missed as Yale finished fifth in the Ivy League standings. After recovering from his injury Hamilton returned the following year to earn Ivy League MVP as the Elis won the Ivy crown yet again. In the end, Hamilton finished his collegiate career with 80 goals and 93 assists, making him Yale’s all-time leading scorer with 173 total points. He was also Yale’s only two-time Hobey Baker finalist. The list of accomplishments and records Hamilton achieved at Yale continues.
Hamilton was never a one-man show, and many Bulldogs had career years when playing on his line.
Off the ice, Hamilton brought comic relief to the team. Steve Conn remembered times when Hamilton would put black tape on his teeth for interviews and photo shoots so it looked like he was missing teeth. In the locker room he was always thinking up different pranks to pull on his teammates.
Now in the pros, Hamilton’s humor can be seen in his often-changing hair color. Hamilton and his playful hair have found great success in the AHL, where he awaits another call from the Islanders.
“If he keeps lighting it up at the AHL level it will be hard not to give him another look,” Taylor said. “He has enough hockey sense and enough offensive talent to earn a spot in the NHL.”