ST. CLOUD, Minn. — A year ago, Will Hammer was not only battling to get playing time for the St. Cloud State men's hockey team. He was also continuing to battle a physical issue that took several years to properly diagnose.
When he was finally diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia, it was a relief to the former St. Cloud Cathedral standout. Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) is a faster than normal heart rate beginning above the heart's two lower chambers. The best news for Hammer was that it was not life threatening and he was able to have a procedure after last season and has not had any issues since.
So when Hammer, 23, scored his first college goal on Friday, Nov. 8, against Northern Michigan, there were a lot of emotions for a lot of reasons.
"I was in juniors (in the North American Hockey League) for three years, which is a long time," said Hammer, who played two seasons for the Aberdeen Wings and one for the Minnesota Magicians. "We had a really good team my freshman and sophomore years (of college), so I was learning along the way. I've gotten a little bit of an opportunity this year and it's been fun every time I've been able to step on the ice."
A recruited walk-on, Hammer played in two games in each of his freshman and sophomore seasons and did not register a point. This season, he has played in the last five games at center for the Huskies.
He will be looking to play in his sixth straight game when St. Cloud State (2-2-4) opens NCHC play with a series this weekend against Colorado College (2-3-1). The teams play at 7:37 p.m. Friday and 6:07 p.m. Saturday at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
Good summer helps
One of the reasons why Hammer has been able to break into the lineup is because he had his first offseason in a few years when he was not restricted as to what he could do.
"Like I could lift weights, but it couldn't be heavy (weights) my freshman year," he said. "When I had these episodes, I had to sit out and go see a doctor to make sure everything was OK. We didn't know what it was, which was nerve-wracking."
Typically, when the SVT would show up, it was when he was doing a strenuous activity. There were times when it would take his breath away and it could last awhile.
"I'd have shortness of breath and I'd feel dizzy, so it was kind of scary when those episodes would happen," he said. "They would last anywhere from 30 seconds to 15-20 minutes.
"It was nice getting that diagnosed and knowing that they can do something about that. To have that completely taken care of, it's awesome. It's been since my senior year of high school (2013-14)."
Once he got the diagnosis, doctors determined that the way to treat Hammer was to give him an ablation, which is extreme heat or cold to modify the tissues in the heart.
"They made a small incision in my leg and went up a vein into my heart," he said. "Now the electrical signal runs the way it should. Ever since I had the procedure, I haven't had any problems."
He had the procedure done after last season and then worked out five days a week with St. Cloud State's trainer in the summer.
"He worked really hard in the offseason," Huskies head coach Brett Larson said. "His agility and speed have always been a question mark, but he makes up for it with hard work ethic."
From scratch to regular
Hammer was a healthy scratch in two of the team's first three games this season. But after a loss to Northeastern on Oct. 25, Hammer was put at center on a line with senior Jake Wahlin and freshman Thomas Rocco. The line did not have a point, but Larson liked what he saw and the trio has been together since.
"What I like most is that they're both so fast and quick," Hammer said of his wings. "That's a lot of energy that we provide and I feel like we read off each other really well."
And on a team that has eight forwards shorter than 5-foot-11, Hammer brings something else: 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds. He's the heaviest forward on the roster.
"He's been a really nice addition to our lineup because we are a little smaller (at forward)," Larson said. "I think he brings a really nice element to our lineup with a heavy stick and some size."
And Hammer fully understands his role.
"I try to make my presence felt in front of the net and down low," he said. "We have a lot of small guys who make cutbacks. That's a little different than me because I'm a little bigger and I try to use my body a little bit more."
Hammer also brings some other elements to the team. He's a management major who will earn his undergraduate degree in December and has a 3.5 grade-point average. In January, he will start work on a Master of Business Administration degree and plans to have that in hand after spring semester in 2021.
"I want to get into health administration and health management," said Hammer, who has a 3.5 grade-point average. "I'm getting more of my love of the game back, just being out there with the guys and out on the ice. I haven't taken it for granted. I enjoy every time I'm out there and I enjoy every game. I enjoy putting on the jersey of a team I've been watching since I was a kid."
Larson said that a sign of what Hammer means to the team could be seen after he scored his goal.
"I saw one of his teammates just sprint to the net to get the puck for him," Larson said. "He's a guy who has always been a great teammate and a hard worker. To see that paying off for him is really exciting.
"He's anchored a fourth line that has really gained the trust of the coaching staff. We feel like we can put them out there in a lot of different situations and they're going to come through. (Hammer) brings a lot to the ice with his size and physical play, but I also think he brings a lot to the locker room with his character."