As last line of defense, Warroad's Hampton Slukynsky remains poised
Sluskynsky has eight shutouts and has been in net for all 18 Warroad wins this year as Warriors down Grand Forks Central 5-2.
GRAND FORKS — It's hard to regularly be in the right place at the right time, but Hampton Slukynsky has been that and more in the crease for Warroad this year.
The junior is starting for the varsity program after backing up last year and has been one of the best goaltenders in Minnesota. Saturday’s 5-2 Warrior win against Grand Forks Central was Slukynsky’s 18th win in the crease, the most out of any Minnesota goaltender.
“I’ve learned it’s a fast pace. You’ve got to be ready every game. You can’t take any minutes off or any period off. You have to be ready to go,” he said after his 25 save performance.
Never was that more evident than the first two shots he faced at Purpur Arena. A streaking Colten Bjorge and Dominic Gerszewski developed a two-on-one break but were denied when Slukynsky kicked the original shot to his far side and then stretched over to rob the Knights of a wide-open rebound opportunity.
It was a chance for Slukynsky to get initiated early. There would be a handful of dangerous chances but with the stellar defense Warroad put up against Central, he needed to stay on his toes. Especially with a 2-0 lead at the end of the first period.
“He’s a calming influence back there. Knowing that we do make mistakes, he’s there to make the saves,” said Warroad coach Jay Hardwick. “I think it helps everybody with the way they play that he is so even-keeled and playing the way he has been.”
The Warriors scored both their first-period markers with less than a minute left as Murray Marvin-Cordes and Carson Reed tallied goals.
The second period is where Slukynsky saw the majority of his action. He faced 10 shots and stopped nine with the lone second-period goal coming from Bjorge on the rush. Despite the added pressure, playing with the lead is something that can put Slukynsky at ease.
“It’s definitely easier to play mentally (with the lead),” he said. “I don’t feel any added pressure. I’m just going out there to play the game and have fun, but trying to stack up wins. It’s tough when you give up a goal but you just have to stay ready to go. When you have a lead it's a lot easier to help keep the boys in it.”
Slukynsky, who started playing goalie at the squirt level, has gotten plenty of opportunities to play with the lead this year. For a Warroad team that has a high-powered offense and two key contributors in Jayson Shaugabay and Damion Gardner, he sees big cushions but knows that he can keep his team in close games when called upon.
“I give him a ton of credit. I’ve never seen a goaltender work as hard as he does every single day. He doesn’t want to get scored on ever and he tries to get better every single day. Now we’re seeing the results,” Hardwick said.
The results, statistically speaking, are some of the best in the state. He ranks second in goals-against average (1.49), tenth in save percentage (.926) and first in shutouts (8).
Although it wasn’t a shutout, the Warriors did shut down plenty of Central plays from even developing. Using Slukynsky as a last line of defense, they pushed skaters hard to the outside and have pushed that messaging a lot this year.
“I always preach that if we do the right things defensively, we have a skilled enough team where we’re going to create chances and we’re going to score goals. It just starts from our end with Hampton,” Hardwick said.
Two more goals in the third period from Shaugabay and Matt Hard were enough to keep the Knights at bay. In a 5-2 final, Slukynsky turned away 25 but will still have the second Central goal on his mind going into the next matchup.
It was a play that caught him off guard as he attempted to handle the puck outside of his crease but got caught in a race with Bjorge, who scored his second of the day.
“I thought I played well and I thought I was tracking the puck well. I thought our defense played well. I’d like to have the second one back but it happens,” he said.
It was an opportunity for improvement, and Slukynsky is always looking to improve.
“I’m working on getting faster. I’m always working on tracking and looking through screens. I try to always develop those traits,” he said.
Warroad, ranked second in Minnesota Class A, rounds out its regular season in the coming weeks with games against East Grand Forks, Bemidji and Delano.
Grand Forks Central 2
First period – WHS 1-0: Murray Marvin-Cordes (Carson Pilgrim), WHS 2-0: Carson Reed (Damion Gardner)
Second period – GFC 2-1: Colton Bjorge (Connor Litzinger, Dominic Gerszewski)
Third period – 3-1 WHS: Jayson Shaugabay (Pilgrim, Todd Powassin), 4-1 WHS: Matt Hand (Ryan Lund, Shaugabay), 4-2 GFC: Bjorge (Gerszewski), 5-2 WHS: Shaugabay ENG
Goalie saves – WHS: Hampton Slukynsky 25 saves, GFC: Preston Diederich 21 saves