Hammond Celebrates With Teammates After Shattering Ankle
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CHICAGO Hockey can take an unexpected and serious turn sometimes. For the Denver Pioneers, it came at the most inopportune time.
With 16:25 left in the third period, Denver fans stood in shock as junior defenseman Tariq Hammond laid motionless next to the boards behind goaltender Tanner Jaillet.
The injury looked gruesome. Hammond became tangled up with a Minnesota-Duluth player and his ankle twisted the wrong way. He collapsed in a heap.
“(I) dumped it in and made a routine play,” Hammond said. “I’ve done that play a million times. Just kind of got caught up. The ankle went into the boards — just twisted up.”
While Hammond laid on the ice, play continued for an elongated period. Eventually, play was stopped for several minutes, and medical personnel tended to the injured defenseman. He was transferred to a backboard and pushed the length of the rink. As the stretcher reached the blue line, the players shuffled off of the bench to meet a motionless Hammond.
“You hate to see Hammond go down,” defensive partner Michael Davies said. “Especially a guy like that — everybody on the team loves him. He’s my D-partner. He’s one of my best friends. It sucks seeing him go down, but I think it really motivated us. We wanted to get the win for him. But it just sucks seeing him go down.”
The players on the Denver bench didn’t initially see what caused Hammond to lay next to the boards. They did realize that once he was down, he wasn’t getting back up. This isn’t a kid who has a reputation of dogging it. If he’s down, he’s hurt badly.
“I looked down when I hit the ice, and my ankle was looking a little weird,” Hammond said. “I just knew it probably was over.”
Once the stretcher comes out, it’s probably the end of the night for a player. They have to accept it, as do his teammates.
Hammond was in a good deal of pain as he laid helpless, with EMTs pushing him up the ice. Staring up at the rafters — where banners line the ceiling at the United Center — he managed to give a thumbs up and wish his teammates well.
“I said, ‘Stick with it,’” Hammond said. “I believe in every one of you guys. Just go out and win it.”
Denver coach Jim Montgomery mentioned that it was likely a broken ankle. Hammond wasn’t sure after the game. Either way, it wasn’t something anyone could plan for. There’s a stark change the other players had to make when they see one of their own hit the ice. There was still hockey to play.
“I guess it wasn't easy for three orthopedic surgeons that were here to put it back in place,” Montgomery said. “But I guess that's how tough a kid he is. Once it was back in place, he wanted to hop out on the ice. Just shows the character of the individuals that we recruit at Denver.”
More than 15 minutes were left on the board. It’s an eternity in the hockey world.
While the teams looked even in the first couple minutes after play resumed, UMD began to push. They had a two-goal deficit to make up and swarmed the Pioneers’ zone. The injury clearly shook the Denver players, as UMD set up chance after chance.
Montgomery switched to a five defenseman cycle, not something unfamiliar with the team. Players get hurt mid-game, and the guys must adjust. This was no different. Davies paired with sophomore Blake Hillman and Matt VanVoorhis cycled while Adam Plant and Butcher stayed together.
UMD clawed one back with 5:21 left, part of a 17-3 shot barrage during the third period. However, they wouldn’t get the game-tying goal, even with a couple of great opportunities in the final minutes.
The makeshift defensive setup held. Denver won the national championship 3-2.
“As soon as I found out, I was in the X-ray,” Hammond said. “I found out we won and I broke into tears. I’m so happy for this group. I love everyone. The support we’ve got from everyone is just incredible. I’m so glad we could bring a championship home for them.”
Hammond, a 23-year-old from Calgary, dressed in every game this year. He wouldn’t be prevented by a major ankle injury from finishing it.
As the Denver players celebrated at center ice, the carpets were laid out for the trophy presentation. From the tunnel emerged Hammond on crutches.
“The docs gave me the A-OK and I just got out there as soon as possible,” Hammond said.
No one knew it was happening. Several players looked over in awe, finding out even after many of the fans noticed that he made it back to the ice.
“I thought he was going to go to the hospital,” Butcher said.
“I’m glad he got to come out and celebrate with us,” Davies said. “He’s one of the best guys on our team, and we love him. Glad he got to experience (the celebration).”
His teammates would grab his shoulders and help him on the ice for the eighth trophy presentation in Denver history.
Montgomery praised Hammond’s effort all season, as well as his will and desire to see it through. Maybe it was adrenaline, but his resolve can’t be argued. Most people would be sitting in a hospital bed.
“I was overcome with emotion when I saw him come back out,” Montgomery said. “But I'm not surprised. He has the heart of a champion. He's an incredible teammate. And he's definitely wearing a letter next year, probably our captain next year. And he was emotional. But he just kept saying: We did it, we did it.”
The two, player and coach, shared a long hug back on the ice afterwards.
"I just told him I loved him, and I thanked him for everything," Hammond said. "He brought me here and gave me a shot, and I just love him to death, he's just such a great coach and great person, I'm so happy we could do this with him."
He may have a busted ankle, but he played on the NCAA’s biggest stage, helped win a national title and will wear a letter on his chest next season.
Even sad stories can have a happy ending.