He just wasn't prepared for how hard one of those lessons would be. A massive blueliner who is still growing, adding an inch and 11 pounds in the past year to stand at 6-foot-5, 204 pounds, Hamilton has worked hard to develop the physical side of his game.
But being bigger than most of the competition he faced in the Ontario Hockey League wasn't always an advantage. Hamilton learned that in January when he had to sit out 10 games with a suspension for a check to the head of Sudbury's Michael MacDonald.
It wasn't easy to have to watch his team play instead of being on the ice with his teammates, but Hamilton took advantage of the time off.
"That was tough," Hamilton said during the Bruins' recently completed development camp. "It sucks watching the games in the stands, but I think playing in the World Juniors and playing those 10 games [for Team Canada] over Christmas, your body's pretty run down, so I was able to kind of rest a little bit and work out and get a little stronger. I think that helped me at the end of the season."
Hamilton still led all OHL defensemen with 17-55-72 totals despite playing just 50 games in the regular season. He then added 5-18-23 totals in 20 playoff games to help lead Niagara to the OHL Final before falling to fellow Bruins prospects Jared Knight and Seth Griffith and London.
Hamilton also learned from the experience, adjusting his game to avoid a repeat of the hit that cost him 10 games.
"Definitely," Hamilton said when asked if his game changed after returning from the suspension. "Obviously I took that out of my game, those open-ice hits. For me and little guys, pretty much every time it's hitting them in the head, so it's pretty tough to do. I think I just have to try to hit differently and maybe just take that [kind of hit] out and play a little bit differently."
Hamilton received only a two-minute minor on the play, which happened 2:56 into the third period of Niagara's 5-2 win at Sudbury on Jan. 13. MacDonald suffered a concussion on the play, a factor that played into Hamilton receiving such a long suspension from the league, which has a zero tolerance policy on hits to the head.
"I don't think I was hitting dirty," Hamilton said. "I think it was just the way the OHL rules it as any contact to the head is a suspension, even if it's a clean shoulder or whatever. When the guy is smaller, pretty much every time my shoulder or elbow is going to hit them in the head."
The NHL has cracked down on head shots as well in recent years, but has not gone to a total ban. Incidental contact to the head in the course of a legal hit and hits where the head is not the principle point of contact are still permitted.
Hamilton still plans to be careful at the next level, especially since he knows he won't always be the biggest guy in the collision in the NHL.
"I think in the NHL you can still hit, but obviously you have to be careful," Hamilton said. "And the guys are also bigger and stronger too, so it may not have the same impact on him."
Hamilton doesn't plan on abandoning his physical style completely though. He showed that in the second of the camp's scrimmages when he flattened Griffith with a huge, but clean, hit in the neutral zone on Monday.
Hamilton knows that's an important part of his arsenal, and that he has to take advantage of his size to be effective. He's improved in that area over the course of his three seasons in the OHL, and plans to continue working on as he attempts to move up to the NHL
"It's something I've worked on over the last couple of years, trying to use my body more and separate guys and be able to, I guess, physically dominate them in the corners," Hamilton said. "I'm just trying to work on that. And as I said, the guys are bigger so I think it will be a little tougher, but I'll just try to adapt."
Hamilton will likely continue that adaption next year in the NHL. While he still has to earn a job, he is expected to make the leap to the big club and play in Boston's top six on the blue line this season. When he does get to the NHL, he doesn't plan on being the subject of any of Brendan Shanahan's videos. Sitting out 10 games in the OHL was more than enough for him.
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