Hammer named Times' All-Area boys hockey player of the year

Hammer named Times' All-Area boys hockey player of the year


Hammer named Times' All-Area boys hockey player of the year


Will Hammer had options before this season.

He could’ve pursued junior hockey and accelerated his post-high school career, but that came secondary to academics, graduating with friends and his love for high school hockey.

And so, Hammer returned for his senior season.

He earned the captain “C” and led St. Cloud Cathedral to a fourth-place finish at the Class A State Tournament.

His 24 goals, 30 assists and 54 total points made Hammer the 2014 Times’ All-Area Boys Hockey Player of the Year.

“I just thought that all of the other stuff can wait so I decided to come back and play senior year,” Hammer said. “I knew straight from the beginning that I just love high school hockey. There’s really nothing like it.

It’s been my dream to play in the state tournament and I wanted another shot at it.”

Hammer heads an All-Area team that also includes teammates Dan Bailey and Zach Fritz, St. Cloud Tech’s Tanner Skaja, Sauk Rapids’ Travis Kothenbeutel and St. Cloud Apollo’s Tanner Breidenbach.

The team is selected by the Times’ staff based on nominations from area coaches.

Hammer’s classmates, University of North Dakota commit Austin Poganski and Tommy Hall, left Cathedral to play juniors this season. They were Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in points in 2012-13.

Hammer stepped up and took charge of the team with his words on the bench and in the locker room as well as his on-ice skills.

“Will has the ability to talk to people at all different levels,” Cathedral coach Eric Johnson said. “He’s a natural leader. He doesn’t have to say a whole bunch, but when he does, people listen.”

Hammer is the Crusaders’ top-line center, excelling on the offensive attack and helping get the puck out of the defensive zone.

He was limited offensively in Cathedral’s first-round state tournament win against Totino-Grace, likely because the Eagles learned from an earlier game in which Hammer scored four goals against Totino.

Hammer became the focal point of most opponents’ scouting reports this season.

“As we got closer to playoffs and into the state tournament, I noticed a lot more pressure on me from other teams,” Hammer said. “I had a lot less time to shoot but my linemates, Logan Neu and Matt Fritz, did a great job of relieving some of the pressure.”

Poganski’s and Hall’s departures naturally put the spotlight on Hammer, who was third on the team in points (33) in 2012-13.

Hammer was able to showcase his skills a little more, being Cathedral’s go-to guy.

“He put up more points without Austin than he did with him,” Johnson said. “That helped his confidence and his exposure. Austin was so talented that sometimes, Will’s attributes got buried.”

Hammer led the Crusaders to a Section 6A championship, a quarterfinal win at state and within a goal of the state final.

He immediately took advantage of an invitation to practice with the Aberdeen Wings of the NAHL, where he joined former Cathedral teammate Austin Swingle.

He lives with a host family and uses email to take his classes through Cathedral.

Hammer said he probably won’t see any game action with the Wings, coached by 2003 St. Cloud Tech graduate Travis Winter. The NAHL playoffs are coming up and Hammer won’t be eligible.

The Wings offered to have Hammer practice more with the team this season, but there are still other priorities.

“I still have some service hours to do for school and I don’t know if my parents are going to want me staying out there,” Hammer said.

Hammer was home in St. Cloud and at school for a couple of days before he participated in the Ted Brill Great 8 Festival in South St. Paul. It’s a tournament that takes the best seniors in the state and showcases for college, junior and professional scouts.

As junior teams and college programs express interest in Hammer (St. Cloud State, Minnesota-Duluth, North Dakota and Cornell all have), more decisions are created for Hammer to make.

“My have always said ‘academics first’ and I agree,” said Hammer, who is interested in business. “Hockey only goes on for so long and grades are important to me, so I want to set myself up with the best future I can have.”

All-Area Player Profiles

Will Hammer – Senior forward, St. Cloud Cathedral

Finished 2013-14 with 23 goals, 33 assists and 56 points … finished career with 73 goals, 101 assists and 174 points to become leading scorer in Cathedral history, surpassing Austin Poganski at 168 points … 2014 Class A All-State Tournament Team … recorded two goals and six assists in six playoff games … practicing with Aberdeen Wings of the NAHL.

Tanner Skaja – Senior forward, St. Cloud Tech

Finished career with 136 points, 56 goals and 80 assists … three-time All-Central Lakes Conference selection … two-time Section 8-2A All-Star … 2013 Times All-Area Team … selected to play in the Minnesota Great 8 Festival … 2014 team captain … playing with the Alexandria Blizzard of the NA3HL … intends to play junior hockey next season … “Tanner has been a three-year starter for the Tigers and has been our offensive catalyst,” Tech coach Joel Heitkamp said. “His skates will be big to replace.”

Travis Kothenbeutel – Junior forward, Sauk Rapids

Finished with 27 goals, 19 assists and 46 points … First-Team Section 6A selection … “Travis is hard-working and strives to improve every day,” Sauk Rapids coach John Kothenbeutel said.

Tanner Breidenbach – Sophomore defenseman, St. Cloud Apollo

Finished 2013-14 season with seven goals and 12 assists for 19 total points … “His best attribute is that he sees the ice and moves pucks extremely well,” Apollo coach Pete Matanich said. “He’s really focused on trying to become better on the defensive side and he’s done a great job of that this year.”

Dan Bailey – Senior defenseman, St. Cloud Cathedral

Finished 2013-14 with seven goals, 31 assists and 38 points … finished career with eight goals, 51 assists and 59 points … 2014 Class A All-State Tournament Team … led the Times area in assists … “He’s an unbelievable leader and character guy for us,” Cathedral coach Eric Johnson said. “He averaged over 32 minutes a game for us.”

Zach Fritz – Junior goaltender, St. Cloud Cathedral

Compiled 20-9-1 record in 2013-14 with 2.23 goals against average and .914 save percentage … first year on varsity … 2014 Class A All-State Tournament Team … 2.61 GAA, .907 save percentage at state tournament … “He’s a very steady performer for us, game in and game out,” Johnson said.


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