On Dec. 17, Andrew Hammond took the ice at the PPL Center in Allentown, Pa., as his Binghamton Senators (AHL) prepared to take on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. He was a no-name, a never-has-been, an undrafted netminder who projected to spend most of his career in the minors.
And after allowing three goals on four shots, he was pulled only 36 seconds into the opening period.
Now, suddenly, he's one of the NHL's hottest goalie.
The time between that cruel December night and today includes an unlikely series of events and a string of implausible performances. First, the Sens' two keepers, Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner, got hurt. When Anderson injured his hand on Jan. 29, Hammond was recalled on an emergency basis; when Lehner collided with Clarke MacArthur on Feb. 16, he was forced into action and played a little more than 20 minutes in relief.
The Bowling Green alum started for Ottawa two days later and, to everyone's surprise, stopped 42 of 44 shots en route to a victory over the Canadiens. A strong debut, sure, but not the kind of work anyone thought he could emulate consistently.
Well, after beating the Jets on Wednesday, Hammond, affectionately nicknamed "the Hamburglar," owns a 1.35 goals against average and .957 save percentage. He has two shutouts to his name and NHL First Star of the Week honors. What's more, he's yet to give up more than two goals in a single contest since joining Ottawa during the 2014-15 campaign.
Somehow, by providing a steady presence between the pipes and a highlight reel stop here and there, he's propelled the Sens to seven wins in their last 10.
Andrew Hammond has 13 points in his first 7 NHL starts. #Leafs have 12 points since January 1st (26 games)— Jack Leiper (@SensUnofficial) March 5, 2015
What makes this even more incredible is how bad the 27-year-old was faring in Binghamton: Before getting called up, he had a 3.51 goals against average and .898 save percentage in 25 AHL appearances this season. Granted, he did all right in 2013-14 (2.81 GAA, .910 Sv%), but there was little evidence to suggest he could pull this off.
"It's something I really didn't see coming probably a month ago, but hockey's a strange sport with goaltenders," Hammond said after beating the Ducks last week. "You just try to be ready if your name does get called.
"I've worked real hard every day in practice since I've been up here, so I felt ready and I'm just trying to make the most of that opportunity now. It hasn't really sunk in yet. I'm just trying to have fun with it and keep enjoying the moment. Anaheim's one of the top teams in the league, so to do it against them is pretty cool."
Not only is Hammond winning -- he's beating some of the best teams around. Los Angeles, Anaheim, Winnipeg, San Jose, Florida and Montreal are among his victims; his only loss came in overtime against Minnesota and another improbably hot backstop, Devan Dubnyk.
"I think he's playing outstanding," Anderson, who should return to action soon, said of his new teammate. "Competition is good. When the other guy is playing well it forces you to play well, otherwise you won't be playing."
Hammond will regress, of course. No one, not even Dominik Hasek or Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur, can maintain these numbers. But, for the time being, as the unremarkable Senators prepare for what should be another lengthy summer, it'll be interesting to see how long he can beat the odds.
And maybe, if this isn't a big, logic-defying fluke, Ottawa could make a legitimate playoff push.