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Dave Peterson Goaltender of the Year Award winner, Hampton Slukynsky, Made the Transition from High School to the USHL Look Easy

By Tom Robinson, 06/01/24, 2:00PM MDT

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Slukynsky won 37 of the 43 games he started for the Fargo Force this year.

The record shows that the Fargo Force won more games than any team in USHL history during the 2023-24 season.

However, that lofty 50-10-2 record for the 2024 Clark Cup champions was more about getting through tight situations than it was about dominating opponents.

Navigating the constant challenges of playing in close games was a big part of making his first year above high school hockey a special one for Hampton Slukynsky, an 18-year-old from Warroad, Minnesota.

Slukynsky, the recipient of the 2024 USA Hockey Dave Peterson Goaltender of the Year Award, credited two areas for making the transition year between high school and college such an overwhelming success.

Skating skills and quickness were important in making the climb to a quicker game, but Slukynsky also knew he had to be aware of other parts of the game.

“Just being able to get to my spots quicker helped, but it was the mental game, too,” Slukynsky said. “It’s a lot tougher mentally because every game is close, whether it’s 2-1 or 5-4, there’s a lot of pressure on the goalie.

“I was just trying to get a lot better mentally, knowing that when you give up a goal it’s over; it’s in the past. There’s nothing I can do about it, but just try to focus on the next shot. I got a lot better on that in the last year and that helped me a lot.”

The Force won their last seven one-goal games, going 14-5 overall in those situations.

Finding a way to win is an important part of Slukynsky’s make-up, according to Fargo coach Brett Skinner.

“He has a competitive streak,” Skinner said. “He’s a pretty quiet kid, but he’s internally driven. In practice, whenever we did competition drills, you could tell that there was a chip on his shoulder that he wanted to win, and that translates into games.

“He’s a very talented goalie that certainly has a bright future.”

That future is at Northern Michigan University, where Slukynsky will report in the fall to begin his college career. That was the tentative plan at the start of the season for the fourth-round pick by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2023 NHL Draft, but the level of success the USHL Goaltender of the Year had solidified that timeline, according to Slukynsky.

Anton Castro carried the slightly heavier burden early in the season in a two-goalie rotation, but by playoff time, Slukynsky was handling the entire workload.

“That really contributed to Hampton’s success,” Skinner said. “He was able to ease into getting up and running. He didn’t have to carry the burden right away. The two of them being talented, also pushed each other throughout the season to continue to get better.”

Slukynsky wound up leading the league in all the major goalie statistics — wins, shutouts, goals against average and save percentage. He was 28-3-0 with five shutouts, a 1.86 GAA and a .923 save percentage. He followed that up by going 9-3 in the playoffs, boasting a .931 save percentage and a 1.69 GAA while helping the Force win the Clark Cup.

“After the first couple games, I had a couple good games back-to-back earlier in the year, which helped give me some confidence,” Slukynsky said. “That was huge. Then, kind of from there, I just tried to keep it rolling.”

Along the way, Slukynsky took a break from the USHL to add to his international experience.

Slukynsky, who had helped Team USA to the gold medal at the 2023 IIHF Under-18 Men’s World Championship in Switzerland, went 4-0-1 at the World Jr. A Challenge in Nova Scotia and helped the U.S. take home a bronze medal.  

Once back in Fargo, Slukynsky became the No. 1 goalie and convinced his coach that he has all it takes to find long-term success at his position.

“To be as successful as he was, you have to have a tremendous work ethic,” Skinner said. “He has a very professional approach, off the ice as well as on the ice in practice. His game-day habits, they all are mature beyond his years.”

In Slukynsky, Skinner saw a combination of traits uncommon for a goalie who will not be 19 until this summer.

“He’s got the frame and the size that it takes to be a quality goalie and then he has solid technique, which continued to improve this year with the guidance of our goalie coach, Carter Krier, but he also has an athleticism that is going to allow him to make the bigger saves, make the saves in big minutes, which can be unique, especially at his age,” Skinner said.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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