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Backchecking: Ken Hammond's whirlwind career

Ken Hammond finished his NHL career with 18 goals and 47 points in 193 games. (THN Archives)

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Ken Hammond finished his NHL career with 18 goals and 47 points in 193 games. (THN Archives)

By Kevin Glew

When Ken Hammond was preparing for his first NHL game on April 2, 1985 against the Edmonton Oilers, his Los Angeles Kings teammates Mark Hardy and Jay Wells offered him advice on how to neutralize Wayne Gretzky.

“They just said, ‘Gretzky is going to try to exploit you. He does this great stop-up when he gets across the blueline, where he’ll move away from the defenseman. Just try to close your gap on him,’ ” Hammond recalled. “Then during the game, Gretzky came across the blueline and I tried to jump up on him and I knocked him over. As I was marveling at how wonderful I was, Dave Semenko came over and just flattened me. He stood over me and said, ‘We don’t do that here kid.’ ”

That was Hammond’s welcome to the NHL moment. The gritty blueliner would be knocked down many more times over the course of his 12-year professional career that saw him play in 14 different cities, but he always got back up. And while he may not own a Stanley Cup ring, he has enough great hockey stories to pen an interesting memoir.

Born in Port Credit, Ont., in 1963, Hammond’s family moved to London, Ont., when he was six years old. The youngest of six children, Hammond had a brother (Bob) who was involved with the Ontario League’s London Knights. Ken remembers Knights players stopping by his house when he was seven or eight years old.

A hardcore Leafs fan as a youngster, Hammond honed his hockey skills at Saunders Secondary School and soon found himself suiting up with the Jr. B London Diamonds in 1980-81. Rather than play for the Knights the following year, Hammond opted to go to RPI college, where he not only starred on the hockey team, but also obtained a degree in civil engineering.

In 1983, while at RPI, the Kings drafted Hammond 147th overall. Two years later, in his final college year, he co-captained his squad - that included future NHLers Adam Oates, Daren Puppa and John Carter - to a national title. Three days after winning that championship, he was playing with the Kings.

Following his debut against the Oilers, Hammond played two more regular season games in April of 1985 and notched his first NHL goal against the Canucks. The 6-foot-1 defender was shuttled between Los Angeles and the minors over the next two seasons, before landing a somewhat regular role with the Kings in 1987-88.

“I had seven goals that year and two of them were against Grant Fuhr,” Hammond said. “For some reason, I just got up for games against Edmonton back when Gretzky was still there.”

But after the Kings acquired The Great One that summer, Hammond was left unprotected in the waiver draft in October of 1988 and the Oilers picked him up. He played five games with Edmonton, before landing with the New York Rangers.

“When I got there (Rangers coach) Michel Bergeron was there with (Rangers GM) Phil Esposito,” Hammond said. “Espo kind of hits me in the hallway and he says, ‘Hey, you speak French right?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t speak French.’ And he says, ‘Oh crap, I told Bergeron you spoke French.’ ”

Shortly after that, Bergeron approached Hammond and began speaking to him in French. When the Anglophone blueliner told him he wasn’t bilingual, Bergeron turned and began scolding Esposito.

“After he gets through tearing a strip off Espo, he goes, ‘Hammond, you’ll never play for me,’” Hammond said. “I just looked at Esposito and was thinking, ‘will this year ever end?’ I could pretty much take therapy on that entire year.”

Despite Bergeron’s assertion, Hammond did play three games with the Rangers, but spent the majority of the season with New York’s International League team in Denver before being dealt to the Maple Leafs in February of 1989. While with the Leafs, he roomed with John Kordic, who was battling his addictions at the time, and also witnessed the quirkiness of Leafs owner Harold Ballard first-hand.

“I just remember picture day in March,” Hammond said. “There were probably 20 to 25 reporters there for picture day and Harold Ballard is keeping everybody waiting because he wants Puck, his big, white Bouvier, in the picture.”

The Leafs also used to play tricks on their elderly owner.

“Ballard would come to the practices and he would fall asleep in the first level of the seats watching practice and when he did a player would go by and howl to try to get his dog to howl or get the dog to bark,” he said.

The dog would respond and awake Ballard from his slumber.

After Hammond’s memorable 14-game stint with the Leafs in 1988-89, he spent the following season with the Leafs’ American League affiliate in Newmarket, Ont., before being dealt to Boston. For the bulk of 1990-91, he toiled with the AHL’s Maine Mariners, but scored in the only regular season game he played for the Bruins. Hammond also suited up for eight games with Boston in the playoffs.

Although he didn’t score a point, Hammond had a solid post-season performance, which garnered him a contract with the expansion San Jose Sharks in 1991-92. After 46 games with the Sharks, he was dealt to the Canucks, where he competed in two playoff games.

That off-season, the Ottawa Senators selected Hammond in the expansion draft and he played a career high 62 games with the Sens in 1992-93. One of the highlights of his time in Ottawa was when he scored a goal in the first game of the franchise’s history.

Hammond returned to the Bruins organization in 1993-94 and recorded 57 points with their AHL squad in Providence, before playing his final two professional seasons with the IHL’s Kansas City Blades.

Over seven summers during his playing career, Hammond secured his MBA and following his playing career he was offered a position with Ernst & Young. Hammond’s official title with the company is now principal, Global Advisory Services and he resides in Solon, Ohio where he helps coach a high school hockey team.

“I know I was just a bit player in the NHL, but all of the guys you run into make it so much fun,” he said. “It would be nice to get reconnected to those guys in some way.”

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