Following his first season in the Ontario Hockey League, Liam Ham was at a crossroads.
The 18-year-old Newmarket native had a respectable rookie season as a 17-year-old with the Niagara IceDogs, but it was clear he needed to make some changes if he was going to survive long term in the OHL.
Hamm did jut that, revamping his off-ice conditioning and working on his skill set over the summer.
The result was a leaner, faster and more skilled player who arrived at camp this year.
“He made a great step over the summer,” IceDogs coach Billy Burke said. “He really committed himself. He changed his whole body. From his diet to his training, he really took it seriously where in the past it was more of a hobby. I don’t think he took the training and eating as serious and then he came here and his eyes were opened.”
Burke credits former IceDogs captain Ryan Mantha with showing Ham the ropes.
“Being around a guy like that every day had a real positive impact on him,” Burke said. “When he went home in the summer he was really focused. He had his goals and stuck to them. He came into camp in great shape and has been able to roll that in.”
Ham feels he’s a changed player this season.
“Last year, things were a lot different,” said Ham, who played junior A lacrosse for the Barrie Lakeshores last season before playing one game for the St. Catharines Athletics at the end of the season. “It was my first year in the league and I was just trying to fit in. This year, I’ve taken it upon myself and the coaches have given me the opportunity to have a bigger role.
“I’m just trying to be myself back there. Last year, I wasn’t really myself.”
Liam admits the adjustment to the OHL was perhaps more than he bargained for coming in from the Aurora Tigers of the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
“The skill difference is huge,” he said. “Going into my first year last year, I didn’t think it was going to be that big of an adjustment, but it definitely was. I’ve thankful for my first year being out of the way and coming in for the second year.”
Ham, who collected two goals and 10 points last season in 55 games, already has three goals and eight points in 23 games. As well, he’s seeing significant time on the power play where he’s done a good job on the point.
“Confidence is a crazy thing in my mind,” he said. “Last year, I would got out for a shift and make the littlest error and be on the bench for like five minutes. This year, there’s a little more leeway. I can try other things and have the confidence you’re going to get back out there.
“It definitely gives me confidence to be in that role and given the role to be on the power play. It’s a huge confidence boost.”
Burke has noticed Ham’s increased level of confidence.
“Everything we hoped he would be when we signed him is what he’s turning into now.”
Burke said Ham’s progress is what the team looks for from their younger players.
“In the first year, it’s all about surviving. Guys get the benefit of the doubt multiple times. If they can fit in and not look horribly out of place in their first year then sometimes that a bonus. Then in the second year the benefit of the doubt time is over. It’s time for these guys to make a step and not only going to play in the league and wear a jersey every night, but they can contribute and help us win.
“For me, the second year is always a big year for guys whether they’re going to make that next step and maybe what they were in the first year is what they’re going to be and then they usually lose their jobs.”
Ham, who is taking a sport management course at Brock, feels much more at home this year, both on and off the ice.
“There were a lot of great guys who helped me through my first year and I’m just trying to do the same for the young guys and show them the ropes,” he said. “There are a lot of things other than hockey to worry about. School is one, being with billet family and being a good person away from the rink, and then there’s hockey. You want to perform your best and be the best teammate you can be.”
The IceDogs are home to the Erie Otters Thursday before travelling to Flint Saturday and Saginaw Sunday. The London Knights visit next Thursday.
Ice cubes: Adrian Carbonara has five games left in his suspension and Zach Shankar three . . . Tickets are now available for the three World Junior Pre-Tournament games at Meridian Centre . . . http://purchase.tickets.com/buy/TicketPurchase?orgid=45389&group_id=704504&schedule=list