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by Daniel Marrazza

November 14, 2011




Flash back to 1997. The Phantoms were based in Philadelphia and over a decade away from moving to the North Country. The Adirondack Red Wings still skated at the Glens Falls Civic Center. The youngest current Phantom, Tye McGinn, was seven years old and starting the second grade. Meanwhile, a 20-year-old Denis Hamel was starting his professional career with the Rochester Americans.

In 2011, a 34-year-old Hamel is still lighting the lamps in the pro hockey circuit as well as anybody in the American Hockey League. Hamel leads the Adirondack Phantoms with nine goals and 14 points, as the team (8-4-1) is enjoying its hottest start to a season since moving to Glens Falls in 2009. Hamel’s latest goal, Friday night against the Syracuse Crunch, was his 324th in the AHL. Heading into a four-game road trip which starts Tuesday against the Portland Pirates, Hamel is within one tally of Adirondack Red Wing legend Glenn Merkosky for 12th place on the AHL’s all-time goal scoring list.

Merkosky played 11 professional seasons including six with the Adirondack Red Wings from 1985-91. He scored 325 times and his #15 was retired on December 22, 1993 and continues to decorate the rafters of the Glens Falls Civic Center. He was inducted in the inaugural class of the Adirondack Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010.

Hamel has already surpassed several AHL legends on his way to 325 goals. He started the year by passing current Washington Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau (316 goals), and he’s also vaulted past Fred Thurier (319 goals) and Bruce Cline (321 goals). However, for all the legends he’s already passed, Hamel admits that for him, it’s all about taking one game at a time and performing to his best on a nightly basis.

“I hear about it (the milestones) and read about it, but I try not to think of that. I’m just here to play hockey and do the best I can,” said Hamel.

Hamel’s road to 325 goals has been long and winding. Since starting his career in the Sabres organization with Rochester in 1997; Hamel has played for the Ottawa Senators, Binghamton Senators, Atlanta Thrashers and Philadelphia Flyers, before joining the Phantoms in November 2010. Since becoming a Phantom, Hamel has paced Adirondack scorers. Besides leading the team with nine goals and 14 points this season, he led the team with 25 goals and 50 points last season, while serving as a mentor to many of his younger teammates.

"Denis is an excellent professional for us and he has been really good with our younger players," said Phantoms head coach Joe Paterson. "Plus, he scores some huge goals for us to enable us to win some games."

For all the leadership he brings, goals he’s scored and stops his career has made; it was with the Binghamton Senators where Hamel established himself as a probable for the AHL’s Hall of Fame. Hamel registered 29 goals, 38 assists and was named an AHL First Team All-Star, during his first season with Binghamton, in 2003-04. Two seasons later, as captain of the Senators, Hamel compiled a career-best 91 points (56g, 35a) and was a co-winner of the AHL’s Willie Marshall Award, which is given annually to the league’s leading goal scorer. Hamel later won the AHL’s Man of the Year Award in 2007-08 and is still Binghamton’s all-time leading scorer with 392 career points (203g, 189a).

Despite his lengthy tenure in Binghamton, it’s in Glens Falls where Hamel is reaching some of the AHL’s most lofty heights. Besides his chase of Merkosky on the all-time goal scoring list, Hamel continues to climb the AHL’s all-time games played and points lists. Hamel is 33rd all-time with 789 games played in the AHL and he’s just 19 contests from 1,000 professional games—Denis has played in 192 NHL games. His 298 career assists being added to his goal total give him 622 points, which are two behind Brian Kilrea and Ken Gernander for 35th and 34th all-time in that category.

Both Kilrea and Gernander went on to have notable coaching careers after their playing days. Kilrea coached the Ottawa 67's in the Ontario Hockey League from 1974-2009 and was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003, while Gernander is currently the bench boss of the Connecticut Whale.

When asked if he had any personal goals that he’s yet to accomplish, Hamel reiterated that to him, his goal is just doing the best he can in each particular game and allowing the chips to fall where they may.

“This is my 15th year. You never know when it’s going to be your last year. I just want to keep doing the best I can and see what happens.”

Hamel Classic Video: Game winning goal vs. Roberto Luongo

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