Stephens City teen plays on championship hockey team
WINCHESTER – When the Hammer family used to host family skates together on Sundays, 5-year-old Joe Hammer would stand flatfooted and still. He refused to take a single stride, lodging a formal protest against the sport.
Twelve years later, in July 2016, the Stephens City resident won a national championship with Team Virginia.
“When I started scoring about 20 goals a game and hearing people cheering, I realized it was kind of fun and I got into it,” he said.
Hammer skates with Team Virginia, a cream of the crop team culled from inline hockey teams throughout the state. The players compete in local, national and international tournaments all year long. The season ended in glory when Team Virginia 1999 (the leagues are divided by birth year) defeated Texas 4-3 to take home the title.
Karl Fischer has been coaching inline hockey for 10 years and working with Hammer for three of them. He recruited Hammer from a house league game when he put the team together three years ago and has stuck with him since.
More than just a talented player, Fischer said Hammer does a good job of working hard and leading by example.
“He’s a great player,” Fischer said. “Great hands, fast, amazing shot. He just works hard on the rink the entire time he’s out there.”
After the excitement of the tournament, Hammer’s parents, Joe and Michelle, watched a tournament game at the Family Sports Complex in Winchester. There, they got to see not just Joe, but his 14-year-old brother Jacob Hammer play against one another.
While Jacob Hammer, playing with the Winchester Warriors, ended up losing 3-0 to the older Team Virginia, he said there’s an upside to the sibling rivalry.
“It’s kind of fun to mess with him,” he said.
While hockey dominates midwestern and northeastern attention spans, from Virginia southbound, inline hockey has become the hot ticket sport, according to Bob Boucher, tournament director for the East Coast Hockey.
While the two share most rules and general gameplay in common, inline hockey is played with four men on the rink at a given time, with no rules against playing offsides or icing the puck. More importantly, perhaps, inline hockey does not allow checking. This makes for faster gameplay and a heavy emphasis on stick handling and puck movement.
“Roller hockey is a game of control and finesse,” the boys’ father said. “Ice hockey is all about knocking guys off the puck.”
Looking forward, Joe Hammer has one more year left with the team before he plans to go to college. He said he may continue to play at a club level while he’s there, but isn’t looking for a varsity program.
Until then, he’s hoping to bring another national championship back to Stephens City and keep playing with his team.
However, Jacob Hammer still has several years left to play. Joe Hammer said depending on his mood he might make it to his little brother’s game when he’s on break from college – if he feels like it.
Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or firstname.lastname@example.org