There were 13 games in the NHL on Saturday (Nov. 18), and dozens of goals were scored, but one stood out from all the others and it wasn’t even from a winning team.
Edmonton Oilers forward James Hamblin captured the hearts of fans everywhere when he scored his first career goal, snapping a shot past Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Jonas Johansson midway through the first period at Amalie Arena.
In the moments after the puck went into the net, Hamblin tapped his heart, pointed skyward, and appeared to say, “That’s for you, Mom.” Following the game, he explained he was paying tribute to his late mother, Gina, who passed away from cancer at age 52 in 2017.
“My initial thoughts went right to my mom,” Hamblin, 24, said. “I’ve had that celebration in the bank for a few years now, so it was weight off my shoulders to finally score the first one.”
Video of Hamblin’s celebration blew up across social media and led off many of the nightly highlight packages. While the goal gave Edmonton a 2-0 lead, the Lightning ultimately rallied to defeat the Oilers 6-4. Even so, Hamblin drew a crowd when the Oilers met with media following Edmonton’s loss. A player whose name wasn’t too well known just a few hours earlier was suddenly the talk of the hockey world.
Latest News & Highlights
As fans learn more about Hamblin, it becomes almost impossible to not root for the underdog left winger. Just getting to this point in his hockey career has been quite a journey, one Hamblin has taken with his mother by his side or in his heart at every turn.
Hamblin Spent Five Seasons in Major Junior
Hamblin grew up in Edmonton playing minor hockey with the South Side Athletic Club (SSAC), where he was a teammate of Oilers All-Star goalie Stuart Skinner. On May 1, 2014, just four days after his 15th birthday, he was selected 17th overall by the Medicine Hat Tigers in the Western Hockey League (WHL) Bantam Draft, a moment he shared at home with his mom.
“To be drafted in the first round is a great honor, but something that you can’t just let get into your head. There are a lot of players that take being drafted for granted and I didn’t want to be one of those players,” Hamblin later reflected. “I was with my mom watching on the computer and when my name was called, my dad (Tim) instantly called me from work, it was like I had both of them in the room at that moment.”
Hamblin went on to play five years (2015-2020) of major junior hockey in Medicine Hat, becoming an all-time Tigers great: He ranks sixth for games played (323) and third for game-winning goals (19) in team history.
Over his final three seasons with the Tigers, Hamblin served as team captain. As an overage player in 2019-20, he set junior career highs with 36 goals and 56 assists in 63 games, and was named to the WHL Eastern Conference First All-Star Team.
Scouts Thought Hamblin Was Too Small
Hamblin’s NHL Draft year was 2017, but he went unselected. While the 5-foot-10 forward possessed a lot of qualities that should appeal to NHL teams, the same word kept coming up in scouting reports: undersized.
Prior to the 2017-18 season, Hamblin was invited to the Boston Bruins rookie camp, which was taking place in Buffalo. At that time, Hamblin’s mother had fallen gravely ill, as cancer that started in her pancreas spread to her colon. Hamblin seriously questioned whether he should go to Bruins camp, but Gina insisted that he go (from “James Hamblin’s Edmonton Oilers debut a bittersweet milestone for family”, The Athletic, Nov. 29, 2022).
Gina passed away on Sept. 6, 2017, just a few days after her son left for Buffalo, and two days before the Bruins rookies played their first game in the Prospects Challenge tournament.
Although he didn’t move on to Bruins main camp, Hamblin had his foot in the NHL door. From there, he attended Toronto Maple Leafs development camp in 2019. Then, after his junior career concluded in 2020, he signed a two-year American Hockey League (AHL) contract with the Bakersfield Condors, the AHL affiliate of the Oilers.
As a first-year pro with the Condors in 2020-21, Hamblin appeared in 38 games, notching seven goals and eight assists. In 2021-22, he tied for second on the Condors with 21 goals, while leading all Bakersfield forwards with a plus-20 rating as he suited up for 64 games.
Hamblin Finally Gets to Call Himself an NHLer
The Oilers took notice of Hamblin’s strong play in Bakersfield, and signed him to a two-year entry-level contract (ELC), beginning with the 2022-23 season.
On Nov. 27, 2022, he was recalled from Bakersfield by the Oilers. He met up with the team in Sunrise, Fla., where he made his NHL debut in Edmonton’s 4-3 victory over the host Florida Panthers the next night. He played 15 shifts and logged 9:56. Gina was on his mind the whole time.
“That was the first thought in my head when I got the call,” he said. “She did so much for me. I wouldn’t be here without her. My initial thoughts are just straight to her and I’m just so thankful for her.”
Hamblin spent just over a month with the Oilers last season, appearing in 10 games before returning to Bakersfield for the remainder of the season.
Hamblin’s First Goal Comes During Meaningful Month
November is Hockey Fights Cancer Month. A joint initiative between the NHL and NHLPA, Hockey Fights Cancer has raised over $32 million since its inception in 1998.
Edmonton’s Hockey Fights Cancer team night is set for Nov. 28, when the Oilers host the Vegas Golden Knights at Rogers Place. One can only imagine what it would mean for Hamblin to take to the ice in his hometown for that game. In the meantime, Edmonton returns to action tonight (Nov. 20), when they take on the host Florida Panthers at the site of his NHL debut, Amerant Bank Arena.