SHERIDAN — Members of the Sheridan NA3HL hockey team joined the junior league for the enjoyment of the game and to attract the attention of the college coaches or scouts from the North American Hockey League.
Players show what they are made of during their shift on the ice each game, giving them multiple opportunities to gain the attention of scouts.
Hawks goalies stand in the crease for a full 60 minutes, working to stop the puck from going into the net.
Goalies do not play in every game, making each chance on the ice an important opportunity to perform. Luke Fundator has been capitalizing on every chance he receives when he stands between the posts for the Hawks.
Fundator is a native of Las Vegas, Nevada and played for multiple teams under Arizona Bobcats organization, playing in the North American Prospects League. He played the past two seasons in Arizona 18U, 16U and 15U teams.
He made the move to junior hockey in the NA3HL after attending camps during the summer, Fundator said. He spoke with coaches from the NAHL, who told him they are looking for players with experience in junior hockey.
The 17-year-old, needing a place to play, took the opportunity head coach Andy Scheib provided and found a spot on the Hawks roster, making the move to Sheridan. Fundator said he has enjoyed how friendly and welcoming the Sheridan community has been to him and the team. He is attending classes online and a senior in high school. Fundator has not been the Hawks’ main goalie this season, playing in 10 games while other goalies James Downie and Zach Hearn have played in 19 and 13 games, respectively. Fundator is the youngest goalie of the three and is looking to use every opportunity he has to gain exposure needed to play at the next level.
“At the end of the day, I just need to play my game and play hard,” Fundator said. “Come out hopefully with a win and some good stats.”
With the limited number of chances, he was made the best of his opportunities. The team won all nine in which he started.
Fundator helped the Hawks defeat the Great Falls Americans on Nov. 22-23. At the time, Great Falls was ahead of the Hawks in the standings. The Hawks are currently one point ahead of the Americans in the standings and are tied in the top spot in the Frontier Division with the Bozeman Ice Dogs.
In the two games against Great Falls, Fundator blocked 43-45 shots in the first game and 49-53 shots in the second game. On the season, he has a save rate of 91.3% and has the lowest goals allowed rate on the team for the season at 2.44 goals per game.
Fundator has received more ice time in the recent weeks, playing in five of the last seven games and starting the past three games for the Hawks, each resulting in victory.
Scheib said Fundator worked his way into the reserve goalie position as the year has progressed. Downie and Fundator will be the two goalies Scheib will rely on moving forward.
Fundator played back-to-back nights against the Butte Cobras, helping the team to an 8-2 victory each night. He said he was grateful for the opportunity he received and enjoys every minute of playing time on the ice.
Game situations allow Fundator to showcase his talent, but this season he has been working on developing his game during practices. Fundator has continually worked on improving his mindset and engaging with the game. As a goalie, having a high level of focus helps with his performance.
Scheib said since day one Fundator has been motivated and focused on reaching for his goals. Playing against older players have helped him progress along with doing the little things off the ice that are needed to succeed.
With this being his first season in junior hockey, the practices have helped Fundator adjust to the level of play. He is challenged during practices. The Hawks have the third most goals scored in the league this season, giving Fundator a chance to practice against some of the top scorers in the league.
“It can be challenging, I can tell you that,” Fundator said. “Their shots really do help and at the end of the day I am happy they are on my team.”
If Fundator does not move up to a higher level, he is a player Scheib hopes to have back next season.
The Hawks return to the ice to play a home-and-home series with the Gillette Wild. The Hawks travel to Gillette Jan. 17 and host Jan. 18 at 7:30 p.m.