Hamilton makes ‘right decision’ to retire

American Hockey League

Ben Birnell
 
| Observer-Dispatch

Wacey Hamilton took some inspiration from a well-known actor as he takes the next step.

Hamilton — known for his work ethic, grit and leadership over the last six seasons with the Utica Comets — has made the decision to retire from hockey after nine pro seasons and 432 total American Hockey League games.

In capping his retirement announcement on Instagram, the forward included a quote attributed to Matthew McConaughey, the Academy Award winner known for his laid-back persona.

“This life we live is a road, and man, we just need to keep movin’” the quote reads.

Hamilton thought of the quote after recently reading McConaughey’s book, “Greenlights.”

“It is not in his book. It is just a quote by him that I found. He seems pretty enlightened. I’ll never forget his speech for when he won an Oscar for best actor. He just speaks so well and you can’t help get lost in his words,” Hamilton said during a phone interview from the Calgary area. “I just found that quote from him and thought it made sense and applied to what we’re going through.”

Hamilton, who recently turned 30 and has two young daughters with his wife, said the decision to retire “was something that I kind of wrestled with for awhile.”

There were a few factors in his decision.

There was the uncertainty surrounding the AHL season stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, which has affected other veteran players in the league.

The Comets’ parent team, Vancouver, was on a budgetary hold for much of the hiatus and Hamilton said he “could see the writing on the wall” he likely wouldn’t be back.

While he had interest from other teams, including in Europe, he wanted to make sure it was the right fit. He wanted to making sure things were under control with his daughter, who was diagnosed with Lyme disease last summer.

Hamilton’s health also played a role. After playing a gritty, hard-working style during his career, Hamilton had a share of injuries that had limited him.  

“It just got to a point where it wasn’t worth it anymore. Being home for so long (after the AHL season halted in March 2020), I think it just gave me time to realize how important my health is to me. I would say my health probably played the biggest role in retiring. I think maybe in the past, you put a bit of a wall up and try not to think too much about it. There’s no secret that I’ve had injury troubles. And, my body has been through quite a bit,” Hamilton said. “I’m very happy with decision. I think it is the right decision. It is a selfless decision, putting my family first and putting me first and my health first. That was kind of the driver in the decision.”

He said he’ll miss the game. Along with close friend Carter Bancks — who also recently retired — the Comets are without a pair of heart and soul players. Hamilton had been an assistant captain the last four seasons.

Hamilton’s 257 regular-season games rank fourth-most on the team’s career list. The team’s impressive run to the Calder Cup finals in 2015 “is far and away the most memorable” of his time with Utica. He said teammates from that season were among those to reach out in recent days to “reminisce about that being the best year of hockey we ever had.”

Hamilton was twice named the Comets’ Bill Horton Award winner for most heart in the 2015-16 and 2017-18 seasons. He also earned the Dave Armstrong Award as the Comets’ Class Guy in 2015-16.

“That was a big part, or almost my trademark: my work ethic and trying not to take any shifts or a night off. I took a lot of pride in trying to bring it every night. Some nights it was there and some nights it wasn’t. That’s just the way hockey goes,” Hamilton said. “I just hope my effort is remembered and that I tried to leave out there every night.”

Over six seasons with Utica, he appreciated getting to know the team’s support staff that included the equipment guys, medical personnel in addition to people in the community.

“It became our second home. My daughters have spent the majority of their lives in Utica,” Hamilton said. “Even when we were still considering playing, the thought of going anywhere else was quite scary just because we’ve become so comfortable in Utica.

“Utica will always have a special place in our hearts. We look forward to going back there at some point.”

He said he’s enjoying his time with his family.

“At some point and in some capacity, I’ll certainly still be in the game,” he said. “We’re just going to take some time to enjoy retirement and make some plans moving forward.”

Ben Birnell is a sports reporter for the Observer-Dispatch. For unlimited access to his stories, please subscribe at the top of the uticaod.com homepage or activate your digital account today. Email Ben Birnell at bbirnell@gannett.com.

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