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Prep boys hockey: Top-ranked Warroad too much for Hunters

Slukynsky and Pilgrim lead the way as Warriors flex their muscle in road win.

high school boys play hockey
Warroad goaltender Hampton Slukynsky (1) makes a save against Kaden Postal (22) of Duluth Denfeld at the Essentia Duluth Heritage Center on Saturday in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Warroad’s Hampton Slukynsky grew up playing hockey with his older brother, Grant, so naturally, Grant and his buddies put little Hampton in goal when he was about eight years old because they were looking for a goalie for pickup games.

Teams are always looking for a goalie for pickup games.

“I just wanted to play, so they just kind of stuck me in the net,” Hampton Slukynsky said. “I kind of fell in love with the position and it’s stuck ever since.”

Junior forward Carson Pilgrim scored four goals and added three assists, and Slukynsky had 17 saves as Warroad certainly looked the part of being Minnesota’s top-ranked Class A team, dispatching Duluth Denfeld 8-1 in high school boys hockey Saturday at Essentia Duluth Heritage Center.

Playing goalie can be the loneliest job when it’s for a team as dominating as the Warriors (16-0), who have outscored the opposition by a 5.50 to 1.25 margin per game, but Slukynsky came into the contest with a gaudy 1.42 goals-against average, .944 save percentage and five shutouts.

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Warroad           2-3-3—8
Duluth Denfeld 0-1-0—1

First period — 1. W, Ryan Lund (Jayson Shaugabay, Carson Pilgrim), :40; 2. W, Pilgrim (Shaugabay), 16:50.

Second period — 3. W, Erick Comstock (Shaugabay), 1:39; 4. DD, Arttu Mollberg (John Scott, Tristin Nephew), 6:54; 5. W, Deegan Watson (Shaugabay, Pilgrim), 13:02; 6. W, Pilgrim (Shaugabay), 16:30.

Third period — 7. W, Pilgrim, 7:25; 8. W, Shaugabay, 10:44 (sh); 9. W, Pilgrim (Kanon Hoffman, Lund), 15:53.

Saves — Hampton Slukynsky, W, 17; Martin Hoffmann, DD, 44.

high school boys play hockey
Warroad goaltender Hampton Slukynsky (1) makes a save against Duluth Denfeld at the Essentia Duluth Heritage Center on Saturday in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“It’s pretty tough, especially in a game like today, where I didn’t even see 20 shots,” Slukynsky said. “It’s definitely hard mentally but you just have to stay focused.”

Denfeld (10-8-1) played a very solid first period and had a chance to head into the first intermission only down a goal until Pilgrim scored with just 9.1 seconds remaining on a nice feed from Minnesota Duluth recruit Jayson Shaugabay, to make it 2-0 after one.

The second period featured another Warroad goal just before the intermission — this one with 29.2 seconds remaining — to give the Warriors a 5-1 lead after two periods.

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“We’re not as good as them. They outskilled us, they outworked us, outcompeted us,” Hunters coach Dale Jago said.

Junior forward Arttu Mollberg slammed in a rebound at 6:54 in the second period, on assists by John Scott and Tristin Nephew, for Denfeld’s lone goal.

Senior goalie Martin Hoffmann finished with 44 saves for the Hunters, including a couple back-door scores where he had little to no chance of stopping them. Denfeld was without its top player, captain Andy Larson, who has a lower-body injury.

high school boys play hockey
Oliver Corbett (17) of Duluth Denfeld passes the puck against Wyatt Hennum (32) of Warroad at the Essentia Duluth Heritage Center on Saturday in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“There were some positive things on our side of the spectrum, too, but our competitive level needs work,” Jago said. “We don’t have a lot of depth with our hockey team, so it’s a matter of bringing up a JV player and competing against the highest-scoring line in Minnesota hockey. We probably doubled the number of shots I was expecting, and we had some chances. But again, our team doesn’t score a whole lot of goals, so we have to get it done in other areas.”

Shaugabay finished with a goal and five assists for Warroad. It appears UMD is getting the ultimate facilitator, unselfish to a fault.

“He always wants to pass,” Warroad coach Jay Hardwick, a former UMD defenseman, said of Shaugabay. “We try to tell him to shoot more because he has a heckuva shot, but he wants to make plays. He wants to put it on guys’ sticks and make it look pretty, but he can certainly score when he wants to.”

Shaugabay, an Ojibwe, is third cousin of Washington Capitals winger T.J. Oshie, who is a second cousin of Minnesota hockey icon Henry Boucha. Henry’s grandson, Gaabi Boucha, is a senior forward on this year’s Warroad hockey team and is bound for Northern State in Aberdeen, South Dakota, to play football.

high school boys play hockey
Arttu Mollberg (8) of Duluth Denfeld skates against Erick Comstock (2) of Warroad at the Essentia Duluth Heritage Center on Saturday in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Slukynsky also comes from good stock. His father, Tim Slukynsky, played hockey at North Dakota in the 1990s.

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Hampton and Grant grew up playing on their backyard rink just outside of town, about a mile south of the Warroad Dairy Queen. Grant, a center for the Sioux City Musketeers in the United States Hockey League, will play at Northern Michigan starting next fall. Hampton will play for Fargo in the USHL next fall with the plan of joining Grant at Northern Michigan in the fall of 2024.

If Saturday was any indication, the Wildcats are getting a good one, a 6-foot-1 goalie with all kids of athleticism.

“Grant and I are close, and we’re competitive, so it was probably better that I moved to goalie,” Hampton said. “It’s fun when he shoots on me. There were a lot of times when we were younger where we’d go out to that backyard rink just so he could shoot on me.”

high school boys play hockey
Arttu Mollberg (8) scores a goal against Warroad goaltender Hampton Slukynsky (1) at the Essentia Duluth Heritage Center on Saturday in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
high school boys play hockey
Warroad goaltender Hampton Slukynsky (1) makes a save against Duluth Denfeld at the Essentia Duluth Heritage Center on Saturday in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
high school boys play hockey
Carson Pilgrim (18) of Warroad shoots the puck on goal against Denfeld goaltender Martin Hoffmann (35) at the Essentia Duluth Heritage Center on Saturday in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
high school boys play hockey
Warroad forward Jayson Shaugabay (17) takes control of the puck against Tristin Nephew (15) of Duluth Denfeld at the Essentia Duluth Heritage Center on Saturday in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
high school boys play hockey
Duluth Denfeld players celebrate after scoring a goal against Warroad at the Essentia Duluth Heritage Center on Saturday in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
high school boys play hockey
Duluth Denfeld head coach Dale Jago watches the game against Warroad at the Essentia Duluth Heritage Center on Saturday in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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