The COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm through the early spring and summer months of 2020. Following large-scale shutdowns, precautionary measures were put in place, allowing society to begin its return to the new normal. A significant portion of day-to-day normalcy is the near-constant occurrence of professional sports and entertainment.
Of the ‘big-four’ North American sports, three leagues (NHL, NBA, MLB) were put on hold during the pandemic, while the other (NFL) has made solid strides in preparing for the coming year while sifting through the fallout from this international virus. Professional athletes have slowly begun returning to work – on the ice, field, and courts – while strict protocol and guidelines have been laid out for the proper return-to-play scenarios.
With the National Hockey League and Players’ Association coming together and putting in significant work on an extension to the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, the two sides ensured the return-to-play aspect of the deal would feature an option allowing players to voluntarily ‘opt-out’ of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. If the presented return-to-play resolution did not seem as desirable as the individual needed, or if other personal conflicts of interest interfered with the NHL’s plan, every player within the league was given the right to back out of the postseason, penalty-free.
Players were provided with a three-day window to make this significant, health-related decision for the betterment of their families while putting their careers on hold – and in some cases, in jeopardy. Of the 816 total players serving the 24 postseason-bound NHL clubs, just seven made the decision to stay home.
The first of these was 29-year-old Calgary Flames defenseman, Travis Hamonic.
At 9:16 PM on Friday, July 10, Flames GM Brad Treliving released the following statement:
“Earlier this evening, Travis called me to inform us that he has decided to opt-out of the NHL return-to-play program,” the Flames’ statement read. “Travis explained that due to family considerations, he has made the difficult decision not to participate in the Stanley Cup Qualifier and playoffs. While we will miss Travis in our lineup, we understand and respect his decision. Our focus remains on preparation for training camp and our upcoming series in the NHL Qualifying Round.”
Hamonic – a product of St. Malo, Manitoba – provided significantly more clarity in a statement of his own, citing the safety of his family, past health scares, and his strong faith in God as key factors in this decision.
“God has blessed me with the talent and opportunity to play in the NHL,” Hamonic’s statement read. “Playing in the NHL is a privilege, and I take a lot of pride in doing so for an incredible franchise like the Calgary Flames. Most importantly, God allowed my family the opportunity to see His love and grace first-hand last year when our little girl contracted a very serious respiratory virus. Like every parent, everything we do is to provide and protect our kids and try to take away any suffering they may endure.”
“Last year we spent the longest, scariest, and hardest week of our lives by our daughter’s hospital bedside,” the Flames defenseman reflected. “We were unsure of what would come next, but with God’s strength, our little girl fought her respiratory virus and recovered. During that long week, we were helpless and couldn’t do anything to help her except hold her little hands, kiss her head, and pray. We saw what a respiratory virus can do to our healthy little girl, and it’s something no parent wants or should have to go through. Now blessed with our second child, a baby boy, the risk of today’s COVID-19 pandemic is a very difficult one to weigh as parents.”
“Due to what my daughter already has gone through and the concerns if she were to catch COVID-19, I’ve decided to opt-out and seek a leave of absence from the Calgary Flames for the remainder of the playoffs,” the statement continued. “I wish I could lace up my skates and be out there battling, blocking a shot, and helping the team win, but my family has and always will come first. Being my little kids’ dad every day is the most important job I have. I love this game and my team. This is a decision that is extremely hard for me to make. I wish my teammates the best of luck and good health. I look forward to joining the ‘C of Red,’ the greatest fans in the NHL, in cheering on my teammates as they chase the opportunity to bring the Stanley Cup home to Calgary.”
Since Hamonic came forward with his brave decision, six other NHL players have indicated their respective choices to forego the NHL’s return-to-play. With the majority of explanation surrounding the health and well-being of family members, Hamonic was the only player of the seven to indicate his faith background as a basis to his decision within his written statement.
But then again, an outward expression of his Christian upbringing and spiritual practices are nothing new for the 10-year NHL veteran.
Since being traded to Calgary in 2017, Travis and his wife Stephanie have been part of a number of charitable programs within and outside of the Flames organization. Northern Project (an Indigenous youth learning program), Charlie’s Children (a charity for low-income or single mother families), the D-Partner program (for children who have lost parents), Women in Need Society, and Flames Foundation are a few of the organizations/projects the Hamonics have been able to work alongside.
To most, Travis Hamonic is simply known as a professional hockey player. He is also a son, a husband, and a brother. But now, most importantly, he continues to fulfill his calling as a Christian father, putting all else on hold as he turns his attention to the immediate needs and well-being of his family.
Photo by Sergei Belski