For everything the 45-year-old has accomplished during her phenomenal hockey career, she’s being honored by a group that played a major role in who she is today. The Adirondack Hockey Hall of Fame, based in Hamlen’s hometown of Glen Falls, New York, will honor Hamlen as its first female inductee during a Feb. 25 luncheon.
“It’s been a lot of firsts for me, which is awesome,” said Hamlen, who is now the Merrimack College women’s hockey head coach. “But at the same time, I feel like it could be anybody who was in my position, it just happened to be me. I’m honored, of course, and I’m thrilled to be part of something I grew up watching in a sense. I grew up around Adirondack hockey, whether it be the Red Wings or youth hockey, so it’s been an incredibly big part of my life for so many years.”
When she found out she was elected to the Adirondack Hockey Hall of Fame, Hamlen was a bit stunned.
“There are so many people that have paved the way in terms of just the people that have come through Glen Falls and have been part of Adirondack hockey,” Hamlen said. “I thought that everything I did along the way wasn’t for glory or fame, it was more just to do what I needed to do to survive as a female in a men’s world at the time.”
Hamlen — her maiden name is Whitten and her hall plaque will read “Erin Whitten Hamlen” — started with Adirondack Youth Hockey as an 8-year-old and played goalie for the organization through 16U. After a successful high school campaign competing on the boys team, Hamlen went on to start all four years between the pipes at the University of New Hampshire. She helped guide the Wildcats to two Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) titles during her college tenure from 1989-1993. Hamlen earned a laundry list of accolades while playing for UNH, including being a four-time First-Team All-Star selection. She was also named the ECAC women’s hockey Goaltender of the Year in 1992.
Hamlen had aspirations of playing in the Olympics and would stop at nothing to make it. She earned a spot on the U.S. Women’s National Team in 1992 and played until 1997, and then again from 1999-2000. Hamlen took home four silver medals (1992, 1994, 1997, 1999) in the IIHF Women’s World Championship and was named the USA Hockey Women’s Player of the Year in 1994.
Back in the early-to-mid 1990s, there weren’t leagues for female hockey players, so Hamlen played professionally with men.
“I was fortunate enough to have the opportunities that I did, because it helped allow me to be on the ice every day to practice at high level, to take shots I wouldn’t have seen just about anywhere else,” Hamlen said. “So for me, it was a means to an end.”
Hamlen played professionally for five teams in three seasons, becoming the first women’s hockey player to participate in games in the ECHL, CHL and CoHL. She posted a 5-3 record in the professional ranks, finishing in Michigan with the Flint Generals in 1996.
“It was a little bit of a whirlwind for years where I was treated like any other player,” Hamlen said. “I was traded, I was released, you name it. But in the end, my goal was to try to make the Olympics and keep my hand in the games so that I could stay sharp.”
Unfortunately, Hamlen didn’t make the cut for the 1998 U.S. Olympic Team. She made a one-year comeback in 1999 before hanging up the blocker.
“When I got cut again, I realized I really needed to be part of something else,” Hamlen said. “So right before I got cut, while I was still part of the National Team and still training a little bit, I ended up at UNH as a part-time coach; back at my alma mater. It was awesome to be a part of and I really felt like I made an impact on the players at that level.”
Hamlen said she resisted coaching for a long time, but her desire to teach and mentor student-athletes kept her in the profession. She was the associate head coach at UNH from 2000-2010. Hamlen also had coaching stints with the U.S. National Team and Select Teams in 2005-06 and 2007-08.
After leaving the University of New Hampshire, Hamlen went in a number of different directions with her career.
“I’ve been called ‘the program starter,’ because I left UNH and I took over the Boston Blades for their first year in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League,” Hamlen said. “Even though I didn’t start it, I was part of the Year 1 program. And then I went to the University of New England and started that program and it was just a totally different experience. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to gather players.”
In 2013, Hamlen had the opportunity to launch NCAA Division I women’s hockey at Merrimack. The program is now in its second season and Hamlen, who recently signed a five-year contract at the school, is striving to turn Merrimack into a Hockey East powerhouse and a national contender. She loves having a handprint in building programs from the ground up.
“They are lofty goals for a young and small school, but I believe that we have all the tools in the making to do it,” Hamlen said.
Hamlen will now have hall-of-famer forever attached to her name, but she knows it won’t change her as she continues to make a name for herself in the coaching ranks.
“As much I am honored, I feel like I have so much more that I’d like to accomplish with this team and so much more I can give,” Hamlen said. “The Hall of Fame is nothing I ever strove for, but having now been given the opportunity, I’m humbled by it.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.