LEWISTON — It took a sheep hunt for Walker Hamilton to find his fighting spirit. Or more specifically, for Hamilton to find his way to Lewiston/Auburn to play for the Fighting Spirit.

Needless to say, it was a successful hunt for the Fighting Spirit coaching staff.

Hamilton was in Pennsylvania trying out for another team when the L/A staff discovered him. When that other team turned Hamilton down, the Fighting Spirit came swooping in.

“The next day (after the tryout) the coaches called me in the morning, began talking to me,” Hamilton recalled. “I actually went back (home), went on a sheep hunt, and after the sheep hunt I called them back and said, ‘Let’s do it. I’m coming to Maine.'”

Home for Hamilton is Anchorage, Alaska. It’s a city and a state that has plenty of competition in hockey at the youth level, according to Hamilton, but older players have to leave the state to continue to find that higher competition. Hence Hamilton landing in Maine, via Pennsylvania.

“It’s kind of a decision point where I was like, ‘if I’m playing hockey, I got to go,'” Hamilton said.

Hamilton was an easy target for the L/A coaching staff. He’s a hulking defenseman at 6-foot-3 and anywhere between 245 and 260 pounds.

“We knew right away that he would be a top-four defender for us,” L/A assistant coach Cam Robichaud said. “He plays the PK; he plays the power play. He can be a physical presence out there, but he also knows when to stay calm and controlled.”

What really made Hamilton stand out wasn’t his size, but what he does with it.

“Typically you see the bigger defensemen, and they’re more of a shutdown, defensive D, taking the body, blocking shots, chipping pucks out,” Robichaud said. “He’s got an element of finesse to his game, which at times it kind of makes you laugh a little bit because you see this 245-pound person dancing around with soft hands. It’s definitely something unique, and something that’s a great asset for himself as an individual and also for our team.”

“I definitely think other people teams notice it right away, even just in warmups skating around,” Hamilton said of his size. “And everyone is like ‘oh, he’s the big kid, he’s not very fast.’ But I get moving. And I think that surprises a lot of people.”

Not only can Hamilton skate, but he can also score. In 28 games this season, he’s put up nine goals and 11 assists. His 20 points are fifth-highest on the team.

“I think it just comes from we have a lot of offensive players, and I do my simple job of getting the puck on the blue line and getting it to the net as fast as possible,” Hamilton said.

And according to Robichaud, that shot gets to the net awfully fast.

“He has a rocket of a shot, when he can hit the net,” Robichaud said. “It seems at times you tell him ‘take a little off to make sure you hit the net.'”

That cannon of a shot has been especially effective on the power play, where Hamilton has scored four times and assisted on four other goals.

“It means a lot, especially because coming into this year I wasn’t much of a power play guy. I was more of a penalty kill guy,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton has been on fire as of late. He has put up five points (two goals, three assists) since the start of the new year, with the Fighting Spirit winning all three games.

“It’s the second-half push. We know we’re coming closer to playoffs here,” Robichaud said. “We had a talk with all the D that everyone needs to step up (after losing high-scoring defenseman Brady McNulty), I think not only Walker, but all of our D have done so.”

Aside from the goals and assists, one of Hamilton’s biggest contributions to the team is his availability. He is one of just five players to have played in all 28 games, and he has a minuscule 10 penalty minutes for a big hitter.

“I think he’s mentally aware of situations, and especially in the beginning when at times we weren’t so disciplined, he knew that he needed to be disciplined. We need him killing penalties,” Robichaud said. “He doesn’t have a ton of penalties. And the penalties he has are purely for being bigger. Most of them are elbowing, just because most kids come to the height of his elbow.”

“That was me growing up being the bigger kid, and knowing if I’m hitting a smaller kid I have to keep my hands down,” said Hamilton, who added that he has lots of respect for officials, and even chats with them before or after games.

Hamilton is willing to chat with anyone, not just the officials. He is constantly chatting with teammates at practice (“He knows when to work, but he also knows when he can lighten the mood a little bit. Just because he’s joking around doesn’t mean he’s taking a shift off or practice off,” Robichaud said), and even stopped to chat with a fan at Subway.

Hamilton said he was surprised that the fan knew him and his teammates played for the Fighting Spirit, but fellow defenseman Mark Ferullo pointed out that it was likely due to Hamilton’s size.

That players get noticed at all in the community is something that Hamilton appreciates about playing in Lewiston. He said growing up in Anchorage had a “small-town feel” for a city of 300,000 people. He called it “enjoyable” in Lewiston to be “the center of attention.”

It’s something that Hamilton is used to on the ice. He’s got the size, the skill, and the charisma, that teammates, opponents and fans alike can gravitate to.

“He’s just a big presence, both physically and mentally and emotionally with the guys,” Robichaud said. “I think he’s a special kid. He’s a good player, but I think he’s a great person. And that’s something that’s important to us here with the Spirit.”

Hamilton said his main focus right now is on the second half of the season (something he credits for his hot start to January) and for his older teammates who might be playing the final games of their hockey careers. Then will come Hamilton’s time at the crossroads of his own hockey career. He said he would like to play collegiately for the Air Force or the Army, and getting the valuable education that goes with it.

He won’t rule out playing professionally, if it ever came to that, but said education is important to him.

Wherever his hockey career takes him, Hamilton said he’ll always look forward to going back to Alaska in the summer, and the next sheep hunt.

“It’s nice to look forward to,” Hamilton said. “Nice to have that summer, work on hockey, and then a month of my time is focusing on that sheep hunt.”

Once the hunt is over, then it’s back to hockey, or whatever life may bring him after that.

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