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Hamill auditions on big stage

By Barbara Matson
Globe Correspondent / February 6, 2011

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Zach Hamill stepped into the pit yesterday. It was not the steaming cauldron of the raucous TD Garden that cheered the Bruins through a fight-filled scoring fest over Dallas Thursday, but for Hamill, it was a pit just the same.

This one was a heavy-handed 2-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks, but for the 22-year-old center playing his first NHL game of the season, it was just as exciting and significant.

For Hamill, it was a crucial audition.

The Bruins’ first-round pick in 2007 (eighth overall), Hamill is playing his third professional season, with all but two of his games played for the Providence Bruins of the AHL. The Bruins noticed a bump in his play in January, including a 1-11—12 stretch.

On Friday, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli termed Hamill’s call-up “a look.’’

Hamill also got a look last season and recorded an assist in the Bruins’ 4-3 shootout win in Washington April 11, the meaningless regular-season finale.

But after the one game in the bigs, it was back to Providence. He wants more.

“Once you get up here, you want to stay,’’ Hamill said, “and not just stay — staying turns into contributing and you go forward from there.’’

Yesterday’s slogfest was not a game for Hamill to show off. He slipped into the center position on the third line, between Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler, but there was not much sizzle from the trio and not much spark from the team in general, which prompted a frank assessment from coach Claude Julien.

“It wasn’t an easy game, I don’t think he got a ton of ice time,’’ said Julien, of the 10 minutes 35 seconds Hamill played.

Nevertheless, with center Marc Savard out for an undetermined period of time with postconcussion symptoms, the Bruins need to find a center who can make their third line work. Julien gave Hamill a bit of a nod after the game for his skills.

“His positioning, his smarts, you could tell were there,’’ Julien said. “So we’ll probably see more of him as we move on here.’’

Still, in a game that Julien called “strength against strength, big guys and heavy teams,’’ a playmaker such as Hamill was not likely to stand out.

In the early minutes of the second period, Hamill and Ryder got tangled up behind the Sharks net, scrambling to corral a loose puck, and instead knocking into each other.

“I was a little nervous to start, but as the game went on, I felt more comfortable and creating plays a little bit,’’ said Hamill.

“All in all, I felt pretty good. I remember last year, the first couple of times I was just getting the puck and trying to get rid of it. Tonight, I wanted to feel confident and have the puck, and if the play’s not there, hold onto it a little bit and be able to make a play.’’

Hamill said his previous NHL game helped relieve the burden of a debut, but he added that playing at TD Garden for the first time was nerve-racking.

“The guys in the room helped me a little bit to calm me down,’’ Hamill said. “The first one’s always kind of tough. You want to get comfortable and be able to be confident out there and be able to make plays.’’

Hamill said he was able to adjust to the game’s speed, but he had to adjust to new linemates, too. He did not register a shot, but he was able to set up Ryder.

“We had a couple of shots there where he was in the slot and I tried to give him the pass, but it didn’t work out,’’ he said.

“The first time you’re playing together, it’s a little different for everyone. We tried to find each other out there, tried to be smart with each other and feed off our strengths.’’

Hamill was on the ice for a shift in the last minute of the third period, as the Bruins tried to snag a tying goal. That assignment was a confidence-booster for Hamill, but did not produce the score the Bruins needed.

Completing that kind of assignment will make the difference for him.

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