Hammer Time – Hampton Slukynsky continues to stop pucks & find success wherever he goes

The Kings fourth-round selection in the 2024 NHL Draft has exploded into the scene.

Hampton Slukynsky, a native of Warroad, Minnesota, population 1,781 comes from city of winners. In fact, every Team USA that has won a gold medal at the Olympics has had a Warroad native on it. I bring this up because Slukynsky too is a winner. As senior in high school last season, Slukynsky won the 2023 Frank Brimsek Award, which is given out annually to the top senior high-school goaltender in the state of Minnesota. Slukynsky, a captain for Warroad High School, posted a .941 save percentage this season alongside a 1.47 goals-against-average. Oh, and he only lost one game all season.

Fast forward to this season and Slukynsky is still winning.

As a rookie in the USHL, Slukynsky is tied for the league lead in wins, posting a 15-1-0 record in total. Furthermore, Slukynsky also leads the league in save percentage (.922%, .14 clear of the next closest), goals against average (1.67 GAA, .72 lower than the next closest) and shutouts (3). At 18 years of age, Slukynsky has the belief in himself and his coaching staff to achieve great things.

As part of a Fargo Force team that holds the best record in the USHL, at 29-5-2, Slukynsky is half of the 1-2 punch in the Force’s net. Alongside third year USHL’er Anton Castro, the duo have split starts essentially all season. Coming in as a rookie, Slukynsky didn’t know often he’d get the net alongside the veteran.

“I came in obviously knowing that we had Anton Castro here and he has been in the USHL for a while,” he said. I kind of knew I could play at this level, so, I knew when I got my chance that I could show everyone I could play. I feel like I’ve done that and played really well. I’ve given them a reason to play me. I think that the team trusts me and I feel really comfortable playing. Obviously, our team has played really well, and I’ve been played well, too. It’s worked out really well so far.”

Confident and even-keeled, Slukynsky has had a great deal of success so far this season.

One reason Slukynsky points to success is his goalie coach Carter Krier, a fellow northern Minnesotan that grew up in a like-minded hockey world. Originally from Moorhead, Minnesota, Krier was a standout goalie in high school before turning to his passion of coaching. At the young age of 24, Krier is now in his fifth season of coaching and has already built an amazing résumé as success has followed him everywhere.

“Carter has been huge for me, it’s my first time having a full-time goalie coach with us during the season,” Slukynsky said of Krier. “Being able to talk about everything with him, whether it’s X’s and O’s or my play in certain situations or just how to play and then there’s other times where you just need someone to talk to about being a goalie. Being a goalie is a lot different than being a player, right, we have three other coaches who help the players out, so it’s really nice to have one that’s specifically for the goalies too, because that’s definitely really important. Not all coaches really understand the whole goalie thing. It’s a little different for them. They’ve never played the position, so they don’t fully know. It’s really, really nice having Carter here helping me every day.”

While this may be the first season the two have worked together, Krier has been aware of Slukynsky for years. Krier’s responsibilities for the Force are both in coaching the goalies and scouting.

“My first interactions with him were actually through his brother who played in Fargo as well a few years back,” Krier said. “I remember Grant [Slukynsky] mentioned Hampton was kind of younger goalie coming up in the world and I got to go up to Warroad and watch him. My first impressions were just that the kid’s a pro. How he approached the game at practice, off the ice, during games and how everything he does is the right way. I was very impressed with that. Then, once we drafted him and over those next two years, we stayed very close, talking quite a bit. We built a really good relationship that I think this year has really helped him kind of transition into juniors and it allows ourselves to bounce ideas off of each other on things that work and things that don’t work. So, the relationship’s been really good, and I’m looking forward to continuing to work with him as we move on to the season here.”

Slukynsky opened his career with 15 consecutive wins this season, the second most in a USHL season in league history behind Matej Marinov’s 22-0-0 to start the 2022-23 campaign.

Described as wise beyond his years, Slukynsky’s demeanor and approach to the game is very business-like. Digging into said approach, the 18-year-old has a maturation and awareness of his opportunity that not many his age realize. With a will and want to be his best possible self both as a human and a hockey player, Slukynsky doesn’t take his opportunity to play hockey as a career lightly .

“When you get to this level, I would say that another really important thing is just coming to the rink every day to get better,” he said. “I’m only playing hockey, I have no school, it’s just hockey. Now, it’s focusing on being a professional. You go to the rink, you work out, you’re at the rink for a while, but that’s kind of what we’re here to do. Just being able to focus on hockey, being consistent and then just everyday working on getting better.”

Slukynsky’s focus and self-belief has pushed his game to a level few rookie goaltenders in the USHL have achieved.

To no surprise, Slukynsky earned the USHL’s Goalie of the Week honors earlier this season after back-to-back shutout victories in late-November. While leading the league in shutouts, Slukynsky has been nothing but consistent when in the net. In 18 appearances this season, Slukynsky has allowed more than two goals only twice. Focused on elevating his game with the hopes of moving up in the hockey world, Slukynsky is fixated on consistency.

“I think at this level and every level moving forward, the most important thing is just consistency,” he added. “You can play well, but if you’re only doing that once out of every five games or so, that’s not good for the team. So, I think just being consistent and trying to play well every night to give my team a chance to win is my focus when I’m in net. You could give up three or four goals, but you could win 5-4, right? So, I think the big thing at this level is just to try to give your team a chance to win no matter what the score is at the time. That’s the most important part.”

For Slukynsky, consistency isn’t just something he’s focused on when it comes to his on-ice performances. Consistency is arguably the hardest thing in this business to achieve, no matter your age or position.

It goes deeper than that, too. Consistency is integral in the way Slukynsky approaches the game as a whole. Through on and off ice training, physical and mental preparation and a want to prove his value, Slukynsky focuses on bettering himself in all areas of the game.

“He’s a very confident kid in his abilities and what he can do,” Krier explained. “I think the way he handles everything is just very much a pro approach. Whether it’s in the weight room, whether it’s just the postgame, the pregame, whatever it is, everything Hampton does is the right way. That’s been really good for him because he can always rely on his routine and what he does to get success. I think that’s kind of been the biggest thing for him with the early success, it’s just how he handles himself. Then when he faced adversity, he handles it in the right way. He doesn’t, you know, get too high, get too low. He’s even-keeled and I think it’s been a big part of the success he’s had.”

Mentally, Slukynsky is solid and seemingly unfazed. Technically, Slukynsky is an athletic, mobile and high IQ goaltender. Described by Krier, Slukynsky’s “biggest strength is probably this is athleticism and his ability to make the saves and a lot of guys can’t. He makes some big time saves at timely moments for us and I think his ability to think the game and kind of read the play can set him apart. He just has a really unique approach when he’s in that net and again, I credit that to his preparation. It’s different than anything I’ve seen. I don’t know, if there’s one certain thing technically that’s really stood out for him because he just does a lot of things the right way with his athleticism and his reads, and controls net really well.”

With a great start to his USHL career, Slukynsky was selected to the represent Team USA at the 2023 World Junior A Challenge from this past December. Consisting of the best U-20 amateur junior leagues across the world, Slukynsky helped Team USA to a bronze medal and led the tournament in goals-against average among those who made multiple starts. In five starts, Slukynsky went 4-0-1 with a 2.99 GAA.

“It’s an honor to play for Team USA and your country whenever you can, you don’t take that for granted. You never know if you’re going to be able to do it again. We played a couple other countries, and there’s a lot of good hockey players everywhere. I think just trying to get better every day was something I learned because everybody wants to play in the NHL and it’s everybody’s dream. My biggest takeaways was definitely learning how many good hockey players are out there, and just how hard you have to work.”

Medal in hand, Slukynsky is back in Fargo with his team and continues to win. Currently on pace to helping the Force to one of the best records in USHL history, Slukynsky’s focus remains on the larger picture and away from individual accomplishments.

“Obviously, my goal this season is to win the Clark Cup, that’s our number one goal,” Slukynsky stated. “For me individually, it’s to just keep playing well, keep building my confidence, and keep giving my team a chance to win every night. If I do that, I think we’ll be able to do well in playoffs and hopefully, hopefully win it all.”

Mature for his age, Slukynsky has earned nothing but compliments from Krier in what he’s accomplished on and off the ice this season. The duo have brought the best out of each other and have built a trust that has shown nothing but results.

“[Hampton] has a great head on his shoulders. You always hear how he’s a rookie in the league and all that, but when he plays, he plays like a veteran. We’re very fortunate to be a part of his development path in Fargo and I think the fans in LA and the staff there are really excited about the future of their goaltender.”

As for his potential moving forward……Krier didn’t hold back on where Slukynsky could end up.

“I feel like the sky’s the limit for him. Wherever he’s been, he’s been a winner. He’s had success. From my standpoint, if you look at a guy’s track record and he consistently wins wherever he’s been, it says a lot about a player.”

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