The 2014-15 season was looking to be a season most Ottawa Senators fans would want to forget.
By the new year the team was at the bottom of the league and the forecast wasn’t looking to improve. To make matters worse, Craig Anderson aggravated his hand injury (though at least this time, it wasn’t due to playing MasterChef with some frozen chicken).
Could it get any worse? Actually it did. After calling up Andrew Hammond to back up Robin Lehner, it seemed that the bad fortunes would keep coming. Lehner played nine straight games before he collided with Clarke MacArthur and sustained a concussion. At this point, it was up to an inexperienced goalie with mediocre AHL numbers to take the reins, and nobody had high hopes for him. This is where being wrong is the the greatest feeling in the world.
The Sens were nowhere near a playoff spot when Hammond stepped into the net that night, and frankly, I don’t think many believed they had enough fight in them to close the gap. While the Sens ended up losing that game to the Carolina Hurricanes, Hammond must have gained some magical energy from the 21 minutes he played that night. It started off with a 4-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens with Hammond making 42 saves, then a 4-1 win against the Florida Panthers, then a shutout against the Anaheim Ducks... and the magic was only beginning.
After five straight wins, Hammond’s miracle seemed to have ended with a shootout loss against the Minnesota Wild. Or so we thought, but it seems that we were wrong again, very wrong. How wrong were we? Burgers on the ice kind of wrong.
Andrew Hammond, now officially renamed the Hamburglar, took strong offence to the shootout loss and made sure it didn’t happen again anytime soon. He went on to win nine straight games from then on. His wins included a second victory against the Canadiens, a crucial win against the Boston Bruins and of course everyone’s favourite, a 5-3 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
I would like to have said that the nickname “Hamburglar” was our creation, but in reality, Hammond earned that name when he “stole” wins for Bowling Green State University. It seemed like victory theft was in his blood, and all he needed in Ottawa was a chance to revive his talents and become the hero this team desperately needed.
Hammond ended up playing 24 games that season, posting a record of 20-1-2 and helping the Sens make the improbable jump from a team fighting for something good to a team fighting for a playoff spot, and eventually winning that spot. Even though the Sens lost to the Canadiens in the first round in the playoffs that year, those 24 games that Hammond played became a part of this team’s history, and made the Hamburglar our own treasured legend no matter where he would end up in his career.
It wasn’t about the wins, though those were extraordinary fun. It was about the feeling that there was something special to cheer for. The Senators were fun, and people were paying attention in a good way. The fans were throwing hamburgers on the ice and every win seemed like a playoff celebration.
The players were in on the excitement too, especially a young and hungry Curtis Lazar who decided to not let the burgers on the ice go to waste, helping himself to a nice post-game dinner. In true Ottawa fashion, that too was debated to no end.
Unfortunately, Hammond’s success with the Senators was short-lived. And while he did get rewarded with free McDonalds for life (sort of) and a three-year contract from the Sens, the success didn’t come back for him. In all fairness, injuries were a huge factor and he was eventually traded to the Colorado Avalanche in that forever doomed Matt Duchene deal.
Fans are generally good at moving on, at replacing heroes with the next ones that comes along. But Hammond remained a hero among fans. To this day, we all wonder if he deserved more from the Sens, if he truly was given every opportunity to come back even if he never would have made it as a starter. He could have made for a really good backup and an important part of the community, or maybe he was just meant to stay as the man with the magnificent 24 games. We will never know.
Winning streaks are always fun but most are forgotten. It’s the streaks that give rise to surprising stories that become iconic and unforgettable, and this one will stick for a long time to come.
Hammond and his wife have maintained their popularity within the Ottawa community via social media, and I don’t recall any goalie who has played so few games making such an impact on a team and its fan base. Nowadays, Hammond is part of the Buffalo Sabres organization trying to once again make a name for himself in the NHL. I, for one, hope that one day he gets another chance to shine. Whether it happens or not, he will always be remembered around these parts for giving us one of the most unforgettable moments in Sens history.
It didn’t end the way you’d hope for a truly great season, but much like the 2017 run, Hammond symbolized the team in a 24-game nutshell — a team that can burst into a miracle run when you least expect them to.