Creating His Own History
Hamilton Finds A Home At Penn State
As defenseman Trevor Hamilton said, the players at Penn State are creating their own history.
The Nittany Lions are 13th in the Pairwise entering the Big Ten tournament and have a chance at making the NCAAs for the first time, a big feat for a program just four years into full Division I play. Regardless of how Penn State’s postseason goes, this has been a record-breaking season for the program.
Right now everything is going well for Hamilton. He’s a leader for Penn State, is one of their top scorers and has been a large part of the team’s success this year.
But just two years ago, things weren’t going well.
The Grosse Point Farms, Mich., native grew up with hockey in his blood — his mother played growing up and his father played at Minnesota State. And he spent his two pre-college seasons skating for the prestigious U.S. National Team Development Program, first with the U-17 team and then with the U-18 team. With the U-18 team, Hamilton played in 46 games and scored nine points.
Hamilton committed to Miami when he was about 15 years old. He went to Miami as a true freshman and played in 30 games and had five points.
But early in his sophomore year, Hamilton stopped playing. He loved the school. He loved his teammates. But he didn't love the hockey.
“It was difficult, I was really close with a bunch of the guys there. But they pretty much all knew that I wasn't happy with the hockey part,” Hamilton said. “They all wanted what was best for me there. And what was best for me was to leave and further my hockey career somewhere else and just become a better player, and you really can't do that if you're sitting in the stands every night.
“They really helped me out with the process and they were always by my side and always wanted what was best for me and I couldn't thank them enough for what they've done."
Hamilton packed his gear and returned to the USHL in 2014-15, having played just one game for the RedHawks that season. He joined Muskegon and played 44 games for the Lumberjacks, scoring 27 points as Muskegon made the playoffs.
His performance attracted Penn State.
“He definitely was a guy who was a leader especially in big games so we were hoping that we would see some of that,” Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky said. “But he's exceeded all our expectations.”
Hamilton spent another season in the USHL and skated in 53 games and scored 35 points. He split the season with three teams and finished with the Lincoln Stars, who lost in the Clark Cup final.
"I think I definitely came in (to Miami) too early," Hamilton said. "I was supposed to play another year after my time at the USA national team. I just think that that year could've helped me a lot. … But they thought I was ready and obviously it didn't really work out for me. But definitely coming back and having that year and a half to play and get stronger, faster [and] quicker really helped my game. Not only physically but [also] mentally with the confidence part and just knowing where you are at all times.”
Most importantly, it gave Hamilton the confidence to know he could fight for playing time at Penn State.
“Coming back I was a little hesitant, obviously I wanted to make the right choice and I didn't want it to be like Miami again,” Hamilton said.
“I felt that, as a player, I was able to come back and I had the strength, I had the size, agility and all that to come back and be a good player or a good enough player to make the lineup every night. It was more for me that I knew I was ready, it's not just the coaching staff thinking I'm ready but I thought I was ready."
In Penn State, Hamilton found a culture where he felt he belonged.
“As well as he fits in on the ice, he's probably fit in even better in the locker room,” Gadowsky said. “He's just a tremendous guy who's a lot of fun."
In return, Penn State received an upperclassman defender who could join a young team in need of leadership, especially defensively. After 2015-16, the Nittany Lions lost its key leaders and entered 2016-17 with 11 freshmen. Five of Penn State’s eight defenders this season are underclassmen.
“He sees the ice really well, he's got good puck skills so it's easy to say that his offense has been the biggest addition,” Gadowsky said. “But then you also looked at what he's done defensively, he leads our team in blocks by a ton, by a lot and I think he's brought a lot of that leadership.”
While Hamilton’s offensive contributions stand out (25 points), the biggest piece of his game comes from the physicality. The junior is just six feet and 195 pounds, but he plays much bigger than that — and he likes to hit.
“I like to play the body a lot and try and shut down opponents’ top players by trying to, not blow them up, but try and be physical with them and not want them to come in my corner and not want them to play against me,” Hamilton said.
Physicality and scoring may be strengths, but Hamilton knows the key to success comes from skating. And while the junior admitting his stride has improved, he’s still trying to get better.
“I think I'm an average skater now, but average is only average,” Hamilton said. “I always want to be the best I can at whatever I can be in. I think my skating is slowly but surely getting better, it's creeping above average but I still need to work on it. I've been doing a lot of training with my father and other like power skating instructors that helped me out lately."
With Miami, Hamilton had a chance to play for an established program competing for NCAA tournament berths. But now Hamilton is seeing success and can help establish a brand-new program with Penn State.
“Miami is awesome walking through the halls and seeing all of the NHL guys that have played there," Hamilton said. "But coming into a school that's basically brand new with hockey and only having one guy playing in the NHL — we all like to create history here at Penn State.
“It's creating our own history rather than adding onto history. It's gives us a different feeling inside. … I'd rather create our own history than add on to history."