For Jamie Hanford, being named to the CT Lacrosse Hall of Fame on Sunday is a just desert to an unrivaled career.
It’s bitter sweet, you know? I’m getting inducted, but does that mean I’m old?
— Jamie Hanford
But, as all veteran athletes know, you’ve got to be careful what you eat.
“It’s the icing on the cake,” he said of the honor, then added: “I mean, it’s bitter sweet, you know? I’m getting inducted, but does that mean I’m old?”
Last year’s Darien inductee, Wave coach Jeff Brameier, who is on the cusp of 30 years behind the bench, might disagree; with the old part, at least. Hanford, who he last coached at DHS in the early 90’s, is 37 years young.
Brameier, though, fully agrees with the deed.
“Well, I thought it would have been nice for him and I to go in last year together,” Brameier said. “But, we just spread it out. And he’s one of the premier players all-time in Conn. And certainly our premier player all through the ranks of DHS; and then what he did beyond DHS, being an All-American playing a national championship game at Loyola. And being a pro and playing and winning a pro championship.
“Jamie has been clearly one of the marquee names in lacrosse from Conn. and it’s fitting for him to be inducted into this year’s class of Hall of Fame members.”
“I just think having Jeff — he’s coming up there for the induction — it’s really special,” Hanford said. “And it’s a true honor. I’m really humbled by it.”
Hanford will be inducted at the Connecticut Hall of Fame Dinner held from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. Sunday at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington.
All new hats for Hanford
“You know, lacrosse is the ultimate team sport,” said Hanford, who will be on the sidelines as assistant coach with the Wave next season, and has all but joined the Irish National Lacrosse team for tournament play — his mom and grandmother are from the Emerald Isle — is conducting one-on-one camps at SoNo Field House and has his own lacrosse business, H5 Lacrosse, which will include camps for kids and has a sports apparel line in the works. “So it’s like, there are a lot of players along the way that helped me get there and helped me succeed.”
“Clearly Jamie — I’ve always said to the kids, when I have my talks about tradition and excellence — that that group was probably the group that began to set the bar for everybody else,” Brameier said of the early to mid-nineties Wave crew. “And he was clearly the most dominant player that I ever had on the field defensively for sure; facing-off, without a doubt.”
Brameier went full circle, from telling the kids about Hanford, to telling the new HOF veteran himself about the honor he’s about to get, and to on Sunday, telling all assembled what Hanford means to lacrosse in CT.
“Jeff kind of told me (about the honor) and the Conn. chapter of the Hall of Fame reached out to me to let me know I was getting inducted this year,” Hanford said of his news. “He’s going to introduce me — it’s only fitting he does — because looking back on it, I remember when I was a freshman, and I went into his office and told him that I wasn’t going to play, because hockey was my main sport.”
Now it’s more often the other way around in that DHS lax office.
“Back in that era — not that I’m not doing it now — but I was always recruiting great athletes,” said Brameier. “And I had Jamie in football — he was a great football player, fullback, linebacker — and I saw him on the hockey rink. And I just knew that he was too much of a physical (force) not to have some success in lacrosse.”
“Then I came back a week later and I’m like, listen, I’m going to play. And I end up getting mono,” said Hanford.
He didn’t play much his freshman year.
“And I played football my freshman year, and then hockey, and then when it came lacrosse season Jeff put a long pole in my hand. And I ended up playing close D and was starting on the varsity.”
Next came the circle game.
“And then I remember my junior year, I wasn’t a face-off guy, but I took a face-off against a starting face-off guy, my good buddy, Jay Robbins in practice. And I beat him.
“And we had no one to face-off my senior year. So I did all the face-offs.”
He was probably one of the first face-off specialists with the long pole
Everyone would say, ‘how can he do that?’
— Jeff Brameier
And he’s been Dean of the Draw clear across Laxland USA ever since.
“He started as a middie and then I switched him to long pole, and there it was lights out,” said Brameier. “He was probably one of the first face-off specialists with a long pole. Not the only one, but one of the groundbreakers.”
“And if it wasn’t for him (Brameier), I probably wouldn’t have had that guidance,” Hanford said. “He really guided me in the right direction of where to go.”
Just where Hanford was going with that long pole was a confusing direction, for spectators and opponents — and maybe even teammates — at first.
“And everyone would say, ‘how can he do that?’” said Brameier of sweeping the circle long pole in hand. “And he just mastered the art. And a lot of guys followed suit behind him. And people learned that that was a doable skill.”
One thing the Wave could not get done, and the early adversity had to help harden Hanford’s character and resolve, was win a state title.
“It was always frustrating for him, because we would go into the state finals having beaten Wilton twice in regular season and the FCIAC Championship,” Brameier recalled. “And then lose to them in the state finals.
“And we finally got over that hump after he left in ’97. We broke that barrier for our first one.
“But he was in that era where we went to the semifinals I think it was in ’92, ’93, ’94, ’95, something like that — it was frustrating.”
Beyond the trophies — there were plenty of them just over the horizon — Hanford gained many a, more valuable, living, breathing keepsake with shelf lives just as everlasting.
You can’t just do it by yourself. There’s nine other guys on the field, and a goalie.
— Jamie Hanford
“The thing about lacrosse, the friendships you make — you can’t just do it by yourself,” Hanford added. “There’s nine other guys on the field and a goalie, and I’m just very fortunate and lucky to play on some great teams and go to a great college in Loyola.”
Hanford was a three-time All-American there, then taken sixth overall in the 1998 National Lacrosse League Entry Draft First Round, starting with Philadelphia.
“And I was very fortunate to play on organizations on the professional level on the (Colorado) Mammoth and Philadelphia Wings,” he said. “And outdoor — being the pioneer — starting the outdoor league and playing in it for six years, you know, those are real special times.”
“I’m excited to have another Darien participant in the HOF,” Brameier said. “It just shows where the depth and the strength of our program is going. I think we are going to see more and more through the years as more of our players become older.”
Now Hanford will take an active hand to creating more of the same.
“It’s a coup for him, and it’s great to have him back coaching,” said Brameier. “I think it can do nothing but help our program and we look forward to having him back.”
As fitting as it is for Brameier to introduce Hanford to the CT HOF, it seems Hanford’s a just as good fit for slotting in on the sidelines for the Wave.
“I always felt that he would have been, and is going to be, a great coach,” Brameier added. “There are a lot of his peer group that are right up there in the upper echelons of DI lacrosse coaches right now, and I really thought if he had just chosen to get into it right out of college, he probably would be there himself right now.”
Darien can be glad that, for now, he’s here.
“But we all make decisions based on what we think is right for our lifestyle and what we want to accomplish,” said Brameier. “And sometimes you put off doing what you think you could of or should have done.
“I think he’s always been a great teacher of the game too. So I’m excited to have him with us.”
For the moment, Hanford’s not looking to the spring turf quite yet.
“Sunday’s going to be a great day,” he said.