Al Hamilton

If you ever are lucky enough to attend a game in Edmonton, be sure to take a moment and soak up some history and great memories by looking up at all those retired jerseys hanging in the rafters.

#99 Wayne Gretzky, of course. #11 Mark Messier, the hometown hero. #7 Paul Coffey. #17 Jari Kurri. The goalie, #31, Grant Fuhr. #3 Al Hamilton.

Who the heck is Al Hamilton?

You came to the right place.

Al Hamilton barely played in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers. Instead, he joined the team in their inaugural WHA season in 1972, back when the team was known as the Alberta Oilers. He stayed with the Oilers throughout the WHA's rocky history, and was part of the inaugural NHL team in 1979-80 before packing it in.

Hamilton put up some decent offensive numbers in his day, scoring 53 goals and 311 points in 455 WHA games. He was solid in his own zone too, blessed with fluid skating and good size, and the knowledge of how to best use both to his advantage. He managed to overcome a serious eye injury to help the Edmonton Oilers reach the 1978 Avco Cup championship finals.

Hamilton was the Oilers undisputed leader back in the WHA, and a true team player. His contributions off the ice were equally valuable as his contributions on the ice. His infectious love of the game made everyone around him better.

Author Ross Brewitt remembers Hamilton well in his book "Into The Empty Net."

"I always remembered Al Hamilton as one of those people who enjoyed hockey more than others because it all seemed so natural. He enjoyed the games, the practices and most of all the heckling and banter, the inside jokes that are a facet of the game that outsiders usually underestimate.

Born in Flin Flon, Manitoba, Hamilton had a taste of his own future when he headed west to play junior hockey with Bill Hunter's legendary Edmonton Oil Kings. Hamilton was a puck rusher sometimes compared to Bobby Orr. The Oil Kings made it to three consecutive Memorial Cup finals in 1964, 1965 and 1966, knocking off Orr's Oshawa Generals in the final year to at long last capture junior hockey's cherished championship.

Hamilton pre-dated the NHL Amateur Draft system. By joining the Oil Kings he became property of the New York Rangers. With the likes of Rod Seiling, Jim Neilson, Arnie Brown, Brad Park and Tim Horton in New York, Hamilton never really got a chance to play in The Big Apple. He spent most of his time playing in the minor leagues with the Buffalo Bisons.

His minor league stop proved to be good foreshadowing of his future yet again. In 1970, the NHL expansion Buffalo Sabres made Hamilton their 2nd pick in the expansion draft. In essence, Al Hamilton was the first Buffalo Sabre selected when they stockpiled their inaugural team back in the 1970 expansion draft. The Sabres actually selected Tom Webster with their first draft selection, but it was part of a pre-orchestrated deal which saw the Sabres flip Webster to Detroit for goaltender Roger Crozier. The Sabres used their second selection to take Al Hamilton.

Hamilton was regarded by the Sabres as the best young defenseman available in the expansion draft. Finally Hamilton was given an opportunity to play lots, often manning the point on the power play. Sabres boss Punch Imlach hoped that this castoff who liked to carry the puck would fulfill his potential if he was given a chance. Ultimately Imlach would be proven right, but it wouldn't happen in a Sabres uniform.

Hamilton put in two good years in Buffalo before he, like so many others, bolted to the World Hockey Association. In 1970-71 Al proved he belonged in the league. Even though the Sabres were weak, especially on the blue line, Al acquitted himself with a 2 goal, 30 point season. Although his +/- rating of -23 is not impressive, it needs to be taken in context. Al was often used against the other team's top players, which is an especially trying task with an expansion team. The fact that his coaches felt he was reliable enough for such situations speaks louder than his poor +/- ranking. Al stepped his play up nicely in 1971-72. His 4 goals and 34 points led all Sabres rearguards, and placed him 4th overall among Sabres scorers. his +/- improved to -12, and, in a usual show of confidence among young defensemen, he played a more physical game, picking up 105 penalty minutes.

In 1972-73 Al jumped to the rebel league. He joined the Alberta Oilers, who were renamed the Edmonton Oilers the following season. The Oilers were owned by a familiar face to Hamilton, Bill Hunter of Oil Kings fame. Though it wasn't the NHL, Hamilton jumped at the chance to return to the west. Of course, the decision was made a lot easier when the WHA was offering three times as much as the Sabres.

Al would remain in Alberta's capital city throughout the entire life of the WHA. He emerged as an all star defenseman, scoring an impressive 53 goals and 311 points in 455 career WHA games.

In 1978 Hamilton's career should have to an end after taking a puck to the eye. The damage was severe, but, perhaps foolishly, Hamilton managed to fudge a mandatory eye exam and play out the 1978-79 campaign. He returned in time for the playoffs, and helped the Oilers go to their only Avco World Trophy Championship series, which they eventually lost in six games to the Winnipeg Jets.

When the WHA folded and the Edmonton Oilers merged with the NHL in 1979, Al accompanied the team to NHL. Injuries limited his play to just 31 games, yet he still contributed 4 goals and 19 points, and helped the Oilers make the playoffs in their first NHL year. He retired at the end of the year. His career NHL totals were 10 goals and 88 points in 257 career games.

When you think of great Edmonton Oiler defensemen you think of Paul Coffey, or maybe Kevin Lowe. But WHA fans are quick to point out Hamilton. His supporters simply have to point out that it was Hamilton who was the first Edmonton Oiler to have his jersey retired.


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