'Diamond Hands' Daniel Amesbury Set To Debut In ECHL, So Get Your Popcorn

'Diamond Hands' Daniel Amesbury Set To Debut In ECHL, So Get Your Popcorn

YouTube sensation Daniel "Diamond Hands" Amesbury is a controversial figure in the hockey world and he's about to bring his old-school approach to the ECHL.

Feb 2, 2024 by Justin Cohn

From a purely hockey perspective, I don’t know if the Fort Wayne Komets signing Daniel Amesbury was a great idea or not. But I do know it’s going to make for great theater when he debuts this weekend.

Get your popcorn ready, as they say.

From the moment word started leaking out around Jan. 17 that the Komets were close to bringing in Amesbury, a 33-year-old enforcer, who had been banned in the Federal Prospects Hockey League, my phone has been blowing up with text messages. 

People are either insanely excited about having the man known as “Diamond Hands” policing the ice, or think that this is an embarrassment for a league that’s been vying to improve its reputation as a developmental circuit for the NHL.

Everyone seems to agree it’s going to be a circus. Opinions just differ on whether it’ll be a show worth watching.

“I just want to make sure all the guys are energized, the crowd is in the game and that everyone is well protected,” Amesbury said Thursday. “That’s the role I take on – being an energy guy and making sure everybody is taken care of on this side of things.”

I’ll be the first to acknowledge, I wasn’t particularly familiar with Amesbury outside of a vague recollection of him playing in the Central Hockey League from 2012 to 2014. But it’s an important thing to know – yeah, it was long ago, and yeah, hockey has changed, but the CHL was quality hockey and equivalent to what the ECHL is today, so it’s not as if the Double-A level is foreign to Amesbury.

It turns out that Amesbury, as nice a guy as you’ll meet, left pro hockey from 2014 to 2022. He played lacrosse. He worked on a tugboat in British Columbia, wearing spiked boots as he managed rolling logs. He pursued professional boxing. He also was victorious at the “Ice Wars” tournaments, which are hockey fights without the hockey, and those were orchestrated by A.J. Galante.

For those not in the know, Galante was general manager of the Danbury Trashers, the team from the defunct United Hockey League famous for being owned by a mobster (his father, James), breaking salary cap rules and embracing the brawling side of hockey. 

I covered their run from 2004 until 2006 – A.J. was fresh out of high school then – and the popular Netflix documentary “Untold: Crime and Penalties” portrays the Trashers mostly accurately.

Galante and Amesbury are close friends, co-host the “Talkin Trash” podcast and have large social media followings. Amesbury has also racked up millions of views on YouTube from his various fights and popular mic'd up segments.

Their listeners certainly weren’t happy about what was happening with Amesbury in the FPHL, which I describe as being Low-A hockey, two steps below the ECHL.  

Amesbury played 46 FPHL games over the last two seasons for the Danbury Hat Tricks, tallying five goals, 15 points and – get this – 423 penalty minutes. And that’s just the regular season; he had one goal and 47 penalty minutes in five playoff games, as Danbury won a playoff championship.

He was 12 games into serving an 18-game suspension for hit to the head when the FPHL announced Jan. 15, to seemingly everyone’s surprise and to the Hat Tricks’ fans’ dismay, it had suspended him indefinitely, citing “the right to deny any personnel from participating in FPHL games if it’s deemed in the best interest of the league.” 

No matter the FPHL’s reasons for the decision, it did Amesbury a disservice by sitting him for six weeks before changing course. He could have used that time to find another job, which he eventually did with Fort Wayne.  

Just as Amesbury was being drummed out of the FPHL, Fort Wayne was getting roughed up by the Rapid City Rush. 

The Komets have an abundance of skill players, many of them rookies, and teams were taking liberties. 

At Rapid City, three players were lost from injuries, no one really was around to send a message – captain Morgan Adams-Moisan was out with a knee injury – and Fort Wayne coach Jesse Kallechy was getting frustrated. His solution was Amesbury.

“I think some teams have been running around on us,” Kallechy said. “That was an issue in Rapid City. We were a little shy. They were big, they were tough, they were physical. Frankly, I’m just tired of it.”

Kallechy came to Fort Wayne last summer from the Florida Everblades – he was the assistant coach when they won the last two Kelly Cups – and they had Kyle Neuber on the roster. 

Kallechy sees the value of having an enforcer, even as hockey has rapidly tried to wipe them from the game through rules changes.

I, too, am a proponent of fighting and having enforcers around. I get all the arguments against it, be it safety or making the games more family friendly. Maybe I’m old school, or just old (I’m 48), but I really feel that there are certain things that need to be settled by the players on the ice and that it can only happen through hitting or fighting, not through league suspensions. 

I believe that as we’ve eradicated enforcers, players have become more dangerous. Without the fear of repercussions on the ensuing faceoff, they’ve become more likely to play recklessly and drive an opponent head first into the boards or hit them in the knees.

Surely, someone can throw out analytics or injury numbers that contradict me, but I’m going off 27 years of covering minor-league hockey and what my eyes see at this level – less fighting, more skill and greater continuous fear someone’s going to get hurt.

Is Amesbury going to be a danger on ECHL ice? That seemed to be a big question when the Komets were close to signing him. 

What no one seemed to expect in Fort Wayne was that the ECHL might not approve the contract. The ECHL is under no obligation to honor an FPHL suspension, but what if Amesbury came into the league and on Day 1 hit someone else to the head? Now you’re getting into issues of liability.

So, the ECHL said the Komets could sign him, which they did Jan. 21, but he couldn’t play until he finished the equivalent of his 18-game FPHL suspension – thus ignoring the indefinite FPHL suspension – and, yes, it’s all very confusing. 

Amesbury will be eligible to play Saturday at the Cincinnati Cyclones.

Speaking of that, I think the Komets would be smart to wait to uncork him until Sunday’s home game against the Kalamazoo Wings. 

One thing no one can question is that Amesbury’s presence is going to boost ticket sales. The worst thing that could happen for the Komets is that Amesbury goes wild at Cincinnati, gets suspended and we never get to see him at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.

What are the odds of that happening? I honestly have no idea. But some interesting people have contacted me directly about this situation with concerns. 

An NHL scout asked me if this is all some kind of joke. I had the father of a player on a team in another conference, not even one on Fort Wayne’s schedule, ask if this was for real. I wondered why he cared, but maybe he was concerned about the kind of league his kid was playing in and if it was truly professional and safe.

All Fort Wayne fans ever seem to do is cry out for more toughness, but even some of the most vocal ones have reacted to Amesbury’s arrival with skepticism. “Can he skate?” they ask. “We need more toughness, but the last thing we need are more penalties,” they add.

That’s kind of where I fall. 

I applaud the Komets (22-16-4) going for more toughness, even if they’re on a 4-0-1 run and in second place in the Central Division. They were putting too much pressure on skill players, such as Matthew Wedman and Jack Dugan, to police the ice for a young team with 10 rookies, who were getting dropped left and right with some dirty plays.

But it’s too hard to just stash a player on the bench and use him three shifts a game these days; enforcers need to actually be able to play. So, I was thinking more along the lines of a Nico Blachman, who skates for the Adirondack Thunder, currently FloHockey’s No. 1-ranked team. Maybe even a Garrett Klotz.

“The legitimacy of the league that I came from (the FPHL) wasn’t very high, so you can say whatever you want about it,” Amesbury said. “But at the end of the day, I’m coming into a legitimate league here.

“I’ve spoken with the (ECHL), and they all know I’m here to play hockey and to play hard hockey. I want to make sure I’m protecting the boys and I’m representing the city of Fort Wayne and representing (the ECHL), and that I’m representing myself as well. I’m coming here to play hard hockey. I’m not coming here to hurt anybody or anything like that.”

I haven’t seen enough of Amesbury to know if he can contribute with anything other than his fists at the ECHL level, I just don’t watch FPHL hockey. And I’m skeptical that he was willingly playing in the FPHL instead of the Southern Professional Hockey League or ECHL, as Amesbury said was the case, but I also do understand that family trumps everything, and if your family is set up better in a city like Danbury for whatever reason, be it your spouse’s job or the schools or whatever, then that’s your business.

I’m certainly eager to find out what’s going to happen with Amesbury and the Komets. 

Is it good for the ECHL’s overall image as a developmental league to have a guy drummed out of The Fed now playing for a flagship franchise? Probably not. But ECHL hockey should be about more than that. This is still the minor leagues and very much also about putting on a show, selling tickets and allowing wacky things to happen in the name of getting people’s attention.

There’s every likelihood this will be much ado about nothing. 

The last time there was this much hoopla over the Komets signing an enforcer, it was when they had Jon Mirasty for 19 forgettable games – and 40 penalty minutes – during the 2010-2011 season.

This could end up being a lot more fun. Or, it could be a gong show. 

To Amesbury’s credit, he seems to understand he can’t let it become one. The Komets need more toughness, but they don’t need ridiculousness. If he’s blasting people safely into the boards, fine. If he’s fighting, great. But if he’s putting the Komets into short-handed situations or getting suspended, he won’t be in Fort Wayne for long.

We’ll see. I’ll admit, I’m excited to watch the show.

“I’m not really a guy who gets super, super emotional and loses my cool,” Amesbury said. “I’m very well controlled. I mean, I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve learned from the best on how to do it – (former NHL player) Scott Parker is one of my mentors – and he helps me a lot with understanding how to play that role and how to find that line without crossing it. I’m not here to take penalties. I’ll fight when it’s time to fight, but you’re going to get some big hits from me – clean hits – and all my penalties will hopefully be just major penalties from fights.”