It's an exhilarating feeling winning a national championship trophy. When that trophy is named after a family member, however, it brings on a whole new level of euphoria.
That's the unique opportunity facing Travis Hamway this week as he and the Fairbanks Ice Dogs battle for the NAHL's Robertson Cup, which is named after Hamway's grandfather, Chuck Robertson.
The Robertson Cup crowns the NAHL's playoff champion, which also represents USA Hockey's Tier II Junior A national champion.
"It's definitely special," said Hamway. "I couldn't end my junior career any better winning my grandpa's Cup."
A pioneer of junior hockey in the NAHL and youth hockey in the state of Michigan, Robertson was the owner of the Paddock Pools Saints when they won a record seven straight NAHL championships from 1976-83.
It wasn't until the beginning of this year when the West Bloomfield native Hamway, now in his second season in the NAHL after spending last year with the Billings Bulls and starting this year with the Traverse City North Stars, knew he was chasing a trophy with roots so close to home. He started to ask questions after reading a story about the Robertson Cup on the Texas Tornado's Web site.
"I finally put two and two together thinking, 'Hey, this could be my grandpa,'" said Hamway, a Wayne State University recruit. "I called my mom (Robertson's daughter) and found out that way."
A regular supporter of local youth hockey, Robertson was never short on generosity towards his grandson's teams, among others.
"He's a great guy, always a really giving guy," said Hamway. "You could go to him and ask him for anything. I'd always go and ask him to sponsor our travel teams when I was young to get some new equipment and stuff."
Roberston, 69, who won't be able to make the trip to Fairbanks because of health reasons (he suffers from a genetic muscle disease similar to Lou Gehrig's Disease) will still bring a little boost to the Ice Dogs' locker room as they chase this year's NAHL title.
"All my teammates know," said Hamway. "It's definitely extra motivation for me and hopefully it motivates the team a little bit, too."
The Robertson Cup Championship has been the talk of Fairbanks the past few weeks, but the fan support at Big Dipper Arena has been the talk of the league for quite a few years. The Ice Dogs averaged 1,877 in attendance this season (second only to Texas in the entire NAHL) and Hamway expects the Fairbanks faithful to be a factor.
"It's going to be pretty crazy in our building," he said. "We've been promoting it like crazy and we're expecting a ton of fans. It's a great hockey town, people love it here."
The four-day tournament, which begins Thursday, will also feature the Mahoning Valley Phantoms, Southern Minnesota Express and the St. Louis Bandits.
"I think teams hate to play here and I think that's going to give us a little advantage," Hamway added.
And even though he'll be thousands of miles away back home in Michigan, Robertson can't help but be at the center of all the excitement.
"I talked to him a couple days about it, he's pretty fired up," said Hamway.