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Waiting For The Call

Because Dave Hanson was one of the stars of the classic 1977 movie “Slap Shot” people forget, or maybe they aren’t aware, there was a time when he was a serious hockey player — a rugged defenseman who performed in the NHL and WHA back in the 1970s.

iBut these days, he’s playing the role of proud papa as his son, Christian Hanson, is one of the top prospects in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ organization.  The 24-year-old center appeared in 31 NHL games during the 2009-2010 campaign, and darn near made Coach Ron Wilson’s opening night roster this year after an excellent training camp.  It wasn’t until three days before the regular season began that Christian was assigned to the Leafs’ top farm club — the Toronto Marlies of the AHL.
Wilson and Leafs’ GM Brian Burke decided to start the season with Tim Brent and Mike Zigomanis as the team’s third- and fourth-line centers.  Both of those players have more professional experience than Hanson, who concluded his collegiate career with Notre Dame two seasons ago.
“Obviously I was disappointed to be one of the last cuts,” Christian Hanson said.  “I felt like I had a great camp and put myself in the best possible position to make the team, but it didn’t happen.”
What did Wilson and Burke tell him when they sent him out?
“They were pretty positive.  They said they were really happy with what I did in camp and they told me it showed that I worked really hard over the summer,” he continued.  “They just felt like me going down and playing 16 to 22 minutes a game for the Marlies would be a lot more beneficial for my development than being with the Leafs and maybe playing six or seven minutes a game.  They still see me as a big part of their future but thought it would be in my best interest, and their best interest, for me to go down and keep working with the Marlies.”
At 6-4 and close to 230 pounds, Hanson is even bigger than Penguins’ center Jordan Staal — which in a way has been good news and bad news.
“People see that kind of size and automatically assume he must play a big man’s game, but that wasn’t really the case with Christian in the past,” said Dave Hanson, who currently serves as the executive director of the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center.  “But over the last couple of years he’s filled out physically and he’s become more aggressive too.  That’s really helped him adjust to being a professional with the style of play, the number of games, the travel and all those kinds of things.  He’s matured physically and in terms of his mental attitude.”
Christian registered 31 points (16 goals, 15 assists) in 37 games during his senior season at Notre Dame, and tallied the same number of points (12 goals, 19 assists) in 38 contests with the Marlies in 2009-2010.  His objective is to become as well-rounded as possible and he believes he’s zeroing in on an excellent blend of size and strength, speed and skill.
“I’m not a guy who can skate past five people and go put the puck in the net, so becoming more physical is just another tool in my box,” Christian said.  “At the professional level there shouldn’t be just one big thing that you do well.  You should be able to do everything well, and that’s definitely what I’m striving for.   I think I now have more of a complete game and you need that to stick around in professional hockey because there are so many skilled players out there.”
Christian calls his father his “best friend” and always keeps in mind what he considers to be the best advice that good ol’ Dad ever gave him.
“He told me that in the 10 years he played professional hockey there wasn’t one day that he didn’t enjoy going to the rink,” Christian said.  “He always said, ‘On the worst of your worst days, you’re still going to the rink to make a living.  Your worst day is better than a lot of people’s best days, so make sure you enjoy it.’  That’s probably the one thing that he’s told me that has stuck with me the most, and it’s the honest truth with me too.  A game that a lot of people play just for enjoyment, I’m lucky to be able to play as a professional.  That’s not something I’m ever going to lose sight of.”
So even though Christian would have preferred to start the 2010-2011 season with the Leafs instead of the Marlies, there wasn’t any sulking on his part.  There was no time for that.  That’s not the way to get in line for a promotion.  But working hard and staying on top of your game is.
“I’m staying positive because I know that moment is going to come,” Christian said.  “When they call down and they’re asking the coach, ‘Who’s playing the best for you right now?  Who’s the guy that we can bring up and he’ll blend right in?’  You want to be that guy.  You have to work hard and maintain a positive attitude because at any given moment, that call could come.”

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