EVANSVILLE, Ind. - For a third consecutive year, Marian University men's hockey has had at least one student-athlete sign a professional contract after Hunter Stewart was signed by the Evansville Thunderbolts of the Southern Professional Hockey League.
"I am so excited for Hunter," commented head men's hockey coach Zach Gaynor. "He has earned this opportunity. Hunter had several pro offers and I am glad that he chose Evansville. I know that Coach Pyle at Evansville runs a first class program and believes in the process of progressing guys to the next level. Our program will truly miss Hunter's skill set, speed, and his ability to play 200 feet every night. Hunter's college career progressed the way we want all of our players to progress. Even though he didn't wear a letter, he was one of the true leaders of this program. Without Stew, our program would not have had the best season in school history or the opportunity to play in the National Tournament. Hunter Stewart along with the rest of his senior class worked so hard to put Marian on the national level, and they succeeded. For that and who Hunter is as a person, I couldn't be happier for him. Evansville is getting an excellent hockey player and an even better person for their locker room."
Stewart (Calgary, Alta.) was a stand out all four years at Marian and closed out his career ranking second in program history with 80 assists. In his 108 career games as a Sabre, Stewart also scored 28 goals for a total of 108 points to put him eighth all-time in program history. His senior season was especially strong as he earned his first All-NCHA nod after leading the Sabres in scoring with 12 goals and 24 assists for 36 points. During the season, Stewart was named the NCHA Offensive Player of the Week and earned a spot on the D3Hockey.com Team of the Week once. Stewart ranked third in the NCHA for total points and was second in the conference for assists, he also ranked tied for seventh in Marian history for assists in a single season. Stewart had nine games where he recorded multiple points with two of those games being multi-goal games. In the classroom, he was named NCHA All-Academic in both his junior and senior seasons.
The Calgary, Alta. native opened his professional career with a bang netting a hat trick in his first game against the Mississippi Riverkings on St. Patrick's Day. Stewart netted a power play goal in the opening period before a full-strength goal in the second period and a second power play goal in the third period to close out his hat trick. The win pushed the Thunderbolts to 23-18-8 on the season with only seven games left in the regular season. Evansville currently sits in sixth in the SPHL standings trailing Knoxville by six points but ahead of Birmingham by five points.
All three goals can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKpQXClfqbs&feature=youtu.be. The feat of completing a hat trick in an athlete's first career game as a professional is a rare one that has only been accomplished five times in the National Hockey League and is considered to be the first time in SPHL history.
Stewart joins Devin Stuermer who signed with the Fayetteville FireAntz, now the Fayetteville Marksmen, in 2016, Scott Milnthorp who signed with the Columbus Cottonmouths in 2017 and Derek Perl who signed with the Huntsville Havoc also in 2017 to be the latest Sabres to sign professional contracts.
Evansville is a member of the 10-team Southern Professional Hockey League that is based out of Huntersville, North Carolina with teams located primarily in the southeastern portion of the United States. The league spans as far north as Evansville, Indiana and Peoria, Illinois. Perl becomes the third Sabre in the past two years to sign an SPHL contract.