Much was unsettled going into this season for the St. Dominic Academy boys’ hockey team, which graduated a handful of seniors, including a star goalie.
Fortunately for the Saints, in stepped a foreign exchange student, Gaston Fuksa, from the Czech Republic, who was able to fill that void.
Fuksa allowed the young Saints to grow as the season went along by providing a brick wall in the crease, and St. Dom’s made it within a sudden-death overtime from making it to the state championship.
“We got better through the season,” Saints coach Bob Parker said. “At the beginning of the season they were peppering Gaston, and he was saving all the shots, basically. His goals-against and his save percentages were really high.”
Fuksa finished the regular season with a 1.92 goals-against average and .940 save percentage while starting 17 of 18 games for the Saints. He followed that up by allowing three goals in three playoff games while stopping 75 of 78 shots faced.
Fuksa, who helped changed the Saints’ fortunes, is the 2017-18 Sun Journal All-Region Boys’ Hockey Player of the Year.
“For me it was a good season, but a little sad for no (championship),” Fuksa said.
It was a season that started with Fuksa just wanting to get starts in net. He got those starts and quickly proved that he’d earned them, facing 85 combined shots in a win over Biddeford and a tie against Falmouth in the Saints’ second and third games. Fuksa called the first five or so games “a little stressful,” but felt comfortable soon after that.
And his teammates felt comfortable with their new netminder.
“We as a coaching staff, and his team behind him, felt comfortable — as long as he could see the puck, and it didn’t matter if it was really in front of him or from a distance — that he was going to stop the first puck, even the second puck,” Parker said. “But yet we had to, not lean on him so much, but we had to take care of some business in front of the net and learn how to play some good defense in front of him, and try to get the shot totals down.”
Those shot totals didn’t always go down, with two more 40-plus save games after those two early contests, and four more facing 30-plus shots. But Fuksa said he likes to face a lot of shots.
“I need volume, warm up,” Fuksa said. “Every shot is important, so I would just try to stop first, stop second, just first step.”
Shots — and lots of them — were the story in some of the Saints’ biggest games, against rival Lewiston. Fuksa was introduced to the rivalry, and the rivalry to him. Though St. Dom’s ultimately lost all three games, the Saints got closer each game, and Fuksa only got better. First came three goals on 30 shots in a 3-1 loss, then three more on 49 in a 3-2 defeat. Fuksa and the Saints almost stole one in the Class A North regional final, with the game tied 1-1 in overtime and St. Dom’s having a chance to win it.
The 39th shot he faced was the dagger, however, on what Parker described as a broken play.
“All three Lewiston games, we played really well, and starting from our goalie out through our defense,” Parker said.
Fuksa said before the season started he never would have thought he would have be a leader on his new team, but thanks to what Parker called a high hockey I.Q., he helped lead the Saints, and almost to a state final.
“His team is first. His goalie stats are nice and everything, they’re important to him, but his team comes first,” Parker said. “Winning and losing a hockey game is very important to him. It’s important to our American high school kids here, too, but it’s nice to hear because it comes from inside him. We are fortunate to have experienced this young man. He gave it his all this winter.”
Gaston Fuksa of Saint Dominic Academy. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)