It seemed like more bad news on February 16 for the going-nowhere Ottawa Senators when they lost goalie Robin Lehner to a concussion.
Lehner was playing only because starter Craig Anderson was out with a hand injury, and the new back-up goaltender who skated onto the ice was an undrafted, 27-year-old rookie with a pedestrian minor-league record.
Ottawa’s injury problems turned out to be the luckiest break of the NHL season. Five weeks later, Andrew Hammond remains unbeaten as a starting goalie, the driver of the club’s remarkable surge into play-offs contention and the object of a growing celebrity as the “Hamburglar”, named after the McDonald’s fast-food character.
On Monday, Hammond improved his personal record to 14-0-1 with a 5-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks, propelling the Senators into the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot, eighth overall.
When Hammond started his first game, the Senators were crawling around at 11th, 10 points out of the play-offs.
Hammond’s brilliance has energised the capital city and inspired corporate McDonald’s to get on board. The late-blooming rookie, who was playing at Bowling Green University in the United States just two years ago, has been given a special card that entitles him to free McDonald’s hamburgers for the rest of his life.
“If hockey doesn’t work out,” Hammond told the Associated Press. “I’ll have a meal plan.”
The hockey thing has surprised everyone.
Hammond was allowing 3.51 goals per game and making saves at an 89.8 per cent rate for the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League when he was called up to the big stage.
His NHL numbers so far: 1.67 goals against and a 94.6 save percentage.
After a recent overtime victory against Carolina, Ottawa forward Mark Stone summed up the early reviews on Hammond.
“Some of the saves he makes, when any goalie makes them, you kind of shake your head,” Stone said. “But for him to be that stable this early in his NHL career is spectacular to see.”
Hammond tied an NHL record by allowing two goals or fewer in his first 12 starts, matching Boston Bruins legend Frankie Brimsek’s 1938 mark.
Although Hammond gave up four goals and three goals in his 13th and 14th starts, he has padded his won-lost record to 14-0-1.
His next milestone could come tomorrow against the New York Rangers when he tries to match Patrick Lalime’s rookie record: Lalime scored at least one point in his first 16 starts for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1996/97.
No one is enjoying the newcomer’s success more than hungry Senators fans, and not just because the team may be play-offs relevant again.
Ottawa fans have been throwing hamburgers onto the ice to celebrate Hammond’s victories, and the team returned the favour by offering free McDonald’s burgers to everyone who bought a ticket to Saturday’s victory over Toronto.
Last week, 10,000 fans at the Boston game also received “Hamburglar” masks at the gate.
Hammond was given the nickname when he was in college, but no one outside of Bowling Green had any reason to know that, until recently. Of course, not many outside of Bowling Green even knew what his real name was, either, until five weeks ago.
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