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Fanti stopping pucks while chasing the dream

Thunder Bay’s Ryan Fanti is in his second season of professional hockey in the Edmonton Oilers farm system.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. – Mike Fanti’s plan made a lot of sense.

As his son Jared continued to make his way through the hockey ranks in Thunder Bay, his equipment would be passed down to his younger brother Ryan.

Then one day, the then-seven-year-old Ryan told his dad that he wanted to be a goalie.

“I told him that the equipment was twice as expensive, it takes up twice as much room, it smells twice as bad and it takes twice as long to get ready,” Mike said.

“Then he said, ‘If you don’t let me play goal . . . I’m quitting.’ So the next day he was a goalie, and the rest was history.”

From that point forward, Ryan’s been on quite a journey.

After playing at the under-18 level for the ‘AA’ Fort William Hurricanes and the ‘AAA’ Thunder Bay Kings, Ryan made his way to Minnesota to play for the Cloquet-based Minnesota Wilderness of the North American Hockey League and for the NCAA’s Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs.

Following three seasons at the collegiate level, Ryan signed a pro contract with the National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers on March 29, 2022.

Since then, the 24-year-old has split time over the last two campaigns with the American Hockey League’s Bakersfield Condors and the ECHL’s Fort Wayne Komets, who are the farm clubs for the Oilers.

“Going back and forth between Bakersfield and Fort Wayne is the most movement I’ve ever really had to do, which I’m very blessed to say,” Ryan said.

“Some other people go through different avenues and sometimes it doesn’t work out, but that’s all part of the game and you've got to roll with whatever comes your way, especially as a goalie.

“I was pretty fortunate that I wasn’t traded during my two years in junior and able to stay those three years at Duluth. I was able to develop some great relationships in and around the northern Minnesota area during that time, which has been really nice.”

While Ryan’s living out his dream as a pro hockey goalie, there have been challenges along the way, as his father can attest.

“Everyone tells you that there are big jumps going from one level to the next, but you really see it as he (Ryan) went from the Kings to the NAHL and then to UMD,” Mike said.

“Ryan told us a story that during his first two or three practices in Duluth, he never stopped the puck. He looked at himself and said ‘I’m in in over my head here,’ but he just had to get used to the speed of the game. The way the puck was coming off of the guys’ sticks is different at the next level and you have to get ready for that.”

Mike said the work that Ryan has put in over the years has helped him reach this point.

“There are a million good forwards, defencemen and goalies out there, but there’s only five per cent that have their mind strong enough to make it because the highs are so high and the lows are so low,” Mike added.

“That’s the biggest attribute is to have your mind be that strong. If you don’t, it’s hard because every one of these kids has had success and you’ve got to be able to face the adversity and keep working at it as things get tougher.”

Ryan had to deal with some adversity this season.

He underwent hip surgery during the summer and didn’t return to action until Jan. 20, when he made 34 saves for the Komets in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Worcester Railers.

Ryan says the biggest thing was to make sure he was fully healthy before his return and that he didn’t re-aggravate anything.

“It was very tedious at times but I was very well looked after and it was something that I put a lot of time and effort into just to make sure that I could get the ball rolling right away when I got back,” Ryan added.

“The focus was just on getting everything done right the first time so that I didn’t have to deal with (the injury) anymore once we started going.”

Ryan has made up for lost time with the Komets this season.

Before getting the call back up to the Condors last weekend, he had compiled an 8-4-1 record with a 2.86 goals against average, a .910 save percentage and two shutouts.

“I’m just happy that I’ve been able to help out the team in what’s already been a good season for them and continue to make that final push for a playoff spot,” Ryan said.

He feels like he’s picked up right where he left off for the Komets in the 2023 post-season, where he put together a 3-3 record with a 1.35 goals against average, a .959 save percentage and two shutouts in the team’s opening round loss to the Cincinnati Cyclones.

“I was a little bit inconsistent last year as I was going up and down between Bakersfield and Fort Wayne, especially at the start of the year as I was getting adjusted to the pro lifestyle after being in college,” Ryan said.

“Coming into this year, I was a lot more comfortable in terms of knowing where I’m going to be playing, who I’m playing against and the overall style of play out there.”

Ryan's been part of some pretty memorable experiences over the last few years.

He stepped up in relief for Bulldogs teammate Zach Stejskal in the late stages of a five-overtime thriller against the North Dakota Fighting Hawks in the quarterfinal round of the 2021 NCAA men’s hockey tournament, in a contest that ended up being the longest in the history of the event.

Then last March, Ryan ended up dropping the mitts against Wheeling Nailers netminder Brad Barone and scored on an empty net in a game against the Rapid City Rush in the span of a couple of weeks.

“The goal was something I always dreamed of doing and I feel like every goalie is always thinking about doing that before getting into a fight,” Ryan said.

“I feel like I’m a pretty good puck-handler so scoring a goal was something I thought I could do, but it’s something that rarely comes. You have to find the exact perfect moment of being up by more than a goal, getting the puck to actually come to you and having the time and space to actually get a shot off.”

Ryan has come a long way from his first days of stopping pucks in Thunder Bay, but he still feels close to his hometown with the support that he gets.

“It’s everything,” Ryan said. “I’ve been very fortunate and super lucky to have immediate family and friends travel down to watch me play, especially in junior and college as it’s not the furthest of drives from Thunder Bay to Minnesota.

“It’s a little bit of a longer trip now for people coming from home, but it’s nice to know that I call always call or text my family and friends to talk with them. It gets your mind off the game and kind of lets you disappear from the rink for a bit.”

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