Andrew Hammond, the Ottawa Senators, and the Nature of Heat

His record-matching streak now over, Hammond and the Sens can focus on wins, the playoffs, and building the muscle to match the hype.

The Hamburglar raises a cheeseburger to the Ottawa crowd

The Hamburglar raises a cheeseburger to the Ottawa crowd

We take heat for granted.

It’s very nature is that it will disappear, that what’s on fire will cool down and smoke. Like every new car smell evaporates into the same old car smell, what’s hot right now will eventually – often, very soon – just sort of mould with its room’s temperature. It’s why you’re always bouncing around in bed, trying to find the cool side of the pillow, because weather’s a temporary thing.

But Andrew Hammond’s run has been a slap in the face of science.

First, let’s acknowledge that Hammond actually set a new NHL record. Frank Brimsek’s 12 straight games (to start a career) with two goals or less is a nearly 80-year-old mark. It exists in the books, and it should, but the NHL in 1938 was a completely different game than the NHL of 2015.

To give you an idea of how long ago that was, the Original Six didn’t even exist – the league had eight teams then, the Montreal Maroons and the New york Americans included. And Adolf Hitler was still ‘upcoming’ in Europe. For our purposes, Hammond is the only player to have ever done this.

Second, the streak is actually still going, I suppose, because it’s not like he lost last night. The Senators won in fact, it’s just that Hammond was finally beaten for three goals, then four.

If you randomly slotted last night’s game into his first 13 starts, the 27-year-old would still have 12 wins, no regulation losses, an absurd 19 goals against. His save percentage this season, albeit in under a quarter of one, is a whopping 0.950 and he’s allowed just 1.55 goals per game.

If you took last night’s four-goal outing – an explosion by the standards he’s set – and you remixed it into the middle of his streak, say sandwiched between those two consecutive shutouts he had against Anaheim and Los Angeles, we wouldn’t even remember it.

It would be history – much like this game, which should actually be held up for a heroic example for young goalies around the continent, not forgotten or dismissed or treated like an anomaly. (That Hammond could go from viral in a humiliating way to viral in a Cinderella way, twice within one season, is truly remarkable. And his sturdiness and perseverance should be celebrated, peaks and valleys together. That’s what makes the struggle the struggle, after all. He’s in the NHL because he worked for it and has rebounded from hundreds of bad games. He’s fortunate that Lehner’s and Anderson’s injuries paved the way for his coming out party, but he earned that fortune, too.)

But, here’s the funny thing about being a sports fan. Last night, watching the two quick ones go past him last night, and then finally the record-busting third and fourth in the second period, I was already picturing the headlines.

I couldn’t get them out of my head, thinking that the Sens and Hammond might finally just lose one. Luckily, the bar’s WiFi was down, so I couldn’t get to Twitter.

I was already imagining the disappointment of a sports culture that sucks hype and pandemonium from trends and runs like it’s sugar in a stick of Juicy Fruit. The Ottawa faithful – and they had to have faith, before Hammond showed up in February – would remove their Hamburglar masks and say, “Well, that was fun.” And then they’d toss on their zip-off track pants and head home. (Ottawa people are nerdy, is what I’m saying.)

And we’d all latch on to some other train about to board, leaving what’s hot today at the platform somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

Because while we take heat for granted, like I said up top, we also seem to have this masochistic desperation to reject that knowledge. It’s delusional, to think that every streak will became a Tom Brady-ish career of all-time greatness. But we get around that delusion by treating the realists as cynics or party poppers or negative Nancys.

The whole, ‘Well, it’s never worked before… but maybe it’ll work for me now.’ Like marching your army through a Russian winter.

Like, we absolutely know we’ll be sick of the song we love today at some point. But instead of spacing out our listening, we throw it on the radio whenever we can, and we play it on loop until we just can’t stand to hear it anymore. We know that we’re craving something when we’re craving it, but we consume it anyway. Because we can, and because addiction can be legal, depending on the substance.

Like binge-watching Netflix or finishing a whole bag of Ketchup chips in one go, Hammond’s rise has been as tasty and unhealthy as the McDonald’s he now gets for life.

It makes you wonder, knowing the love-in will end, just what this kid has to do to stay in the spotlight. Or whether he should even try.

It’s not like he planned it, not this way. It’s not like he knew it would happen, like he was sitting there in the AHL and wondering what it would be like when he (of course) would show up and win 12 of his first 13 NHL games, virtually all of them in zero gravity.

But don’t believe the hype.

Because hype is an insulting word. Hype, like heat, is short-lived and ticking. Hype means sizzle, not steak. Hype is the ‘mania’ in Beatlemania. But below the hype, some terrific music was being created. All the notes were hit, the chords were strummed, and the timing was spot-on. So when they didn’t have their bowl cuts, the Fab Four were ready to launch forth an all-time great discography.

Hype indicates there’s not hard work or excellence at play. And if you’ve seen Hammond so far, you know it’s no fluke. His positioning is tremendous; his poise is second to only maybe Cory Schneider, right now.

He’s a great goaltender, one who’s had both the benefit and the curse of hitting it big overnight. Fortunately, he’s 27. He’s not some teenager who can’t cope with the 24/7, 365 realities of the job – He’s “been to the puppet show and seen the strings,” as the phrase from Jerry Maguire goes.

And it makes you think, too, of all the other great goaltenders who spent years and years on the farm, in college, in the minors, who probably could have played in the NHL, but who never got this chance.

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