Stephen Mundinger in goal for the University of Maine.

Stephen Mundinger in goal for the University of Maine. Credit: University of Maine/Mark Tutuny

Stephen Mundinger’s hockey career has been defined by unconventional turns. But the Smithtown native continues to chase — and achieve — his professional dreams.

Mundinger, a 6-8 goalie, did not start playing ice hockey until he was in 11th grade. He played on multiple junior hockey teams, breaking through with the New York Aviators and earning a spot on the University of Maine’s team at 21. Mundinger did not play as much as he wanted to in four years at Maine and a semester at LIU, but he felt improvement.

A double hip surgery in 2021 and an unwanted 2022-23 season away from the game came and went, but Mundinger stayed relentless.

Mundinger, 28, now has a professional home with the Pensacola Ice Flyers of the SPHL (Southern Professional Hockey League), proving his resilience paid dividends. Through 22 games this season, Mundinger owns two shutouts and a 2.72 goals-against average for a team hoping to make a playoff run.

“It’s been a long road to finally get to playing a lot of games in professional,” Mundinger said. “Everything I was hoping for this year has come. I’m playing a lot, having fun.”

Mundinger has goals of eventually climbing through the tiers of professional hockey but called the SPHL — a 10-team independent league based in Huntersville, North Carolina — “by far the best place to play.”

Mundinger’s budding career overshadows that he was strictly a roller hockey goalie until his junior year of high school. But it also serves as a reminder of just how far he has come.

Said Stephen’s father, Steve Mundinger: “Some people today, they cannot believe like, ‘You started playing ice hockey when you were a junior in high school and you got (here)?’

“It’s unheard of.”

Steve remembers Stephen wanting to transition to ice hockey, which would seemingly have more of an avenue for his future.

“There’s a short window, period of time where you have this opportunity, and I want you to capitalize on it and go for it,” Steve had said to his son. “Chase your dream now.”

Mundinger began playing ice hockey with the Smithtown/Hauppauge high school club. Mundinger knew how to stop a puck, but the switch from wheels to blades created a learning curve, which skating coach Barbara Williams helped solve.

Mundinger graduated from Smithtown West in 2013, opting to play junior hockey in hopes of earning a chance to go Division I.

While playing with the PAL Junior Islanders in 2014-15, Mundinger would often face his future team: the Aviators. Steve recalled the Aviators peppering his son with 70-plus shots per game. Despite that, Mundinger would have his best games against them and coach Mike Stanaway, who recruited him for the 2015-16 season.

The Aviators — based in Brooklyn — were a part of the NA3EHL, a Tier III junior league. Mundinger thought he could play on a higher level, but Stanaway promised he would play every game. Mundinger needed the reps, which would speak volumes.

Mundinger recorded a .936 save percentage en route to NA3EHL Goalie of the Year honors. Karen Mundinger, Stephen’s mother, would sit behind Stephen’s net and record every game. Mundinger would create video packages on his off days to send to colleges.

“He didn’t give up,” Karen said. “... He knew he could do it, he just needed someone to give him the opportunity."

Mundinger landed at Maine for the 2016-17 season, though extended playing time was never available. Current Boston Bruins All-Star goalie Jeremy Swayman, who Mundinger has a “great relationship” with, started at Maine from 2017-20.

Mundinger played just six games and 67:48 of ice time from 2016-19, redshirting the 2019-20 season before transferring to LIU for the Sharks’ inaugural 2020-21 season.

“Maine was awesome,” Mundinger said. “Definitely have a good goalie reputation there. … As much as I didn’t play as much as I wanted to when I was there, I definitely improved.”

Mundinger was only with LIU for about two months during a COVID-riddled season. Then came the double hip surgery, ending his college career and jumpstarting an uncertain journey to the pros.

He first felt hip pain in November 2020, getting two separate surgeries in December 2020 and March 2021. He was able to skate by July 2021 but did not feel 100% until a year after the surgeries.

Mundinger had three ECHL stints during the 2021-22 season, attending the Cincinnati Cyclones’ training camp in October 2021 and signing briefly with both the Maine Mariners and Jacksonville Icemen after Christmas. NHL-affiliated goalies came down to each team, though, ultimately leaving Mundinger out of the mix.

Without a professional home, Mundinger remained teamless for the entire 2022-23 season.

“I tried, and no one would give me a chance and an opportunity,” Mundinger said. “… I still had belief in myself and knew I could do it, so I wasn’t going to quit.”

During the 2022-23 season, Mundinger was fortunate to have a circle that gave him the opportunities to stay sharp.

Long Island Sports Hub owners Robert Hare and Andrew Wyttenbach gave him ice to train every morning in Syosset with strength coach Mike Mejia. Mark Dubeau and Alison Chlanda of The Rinx in Hauppauge allowed him ice time to hold private lessons.

“As much as I didn’t play last year, I definitely improved a tremendous amount,” Mundinger said. “I was able to train and then still make money, which was a perfect recipe for this year.”

Mundinger said there were some low days during the off year, but the goalie position constantly produces transactions throughout different leagues.

“You never know when your phone is gonna ring,” Mundinger said. “So it’s one of those things where you always got to be ready.”

The phone call from Pensacola came. He signed with the Ice Flyers on Oct. 3, and he notched his first pro win on Oct. 28.

Mundinger hopes to play 10-to-15 more years. He graduated from Maine with a degree in child development, and he started his master’s coursework in special education during his semester at LIU. He also has a passion for coaching.

Regardless of where his path leads him, Mundinger has shown detours are not an obstacle. Despite the ups and downs, Mundinger can say he is a professional goalie.

No one can take that away from him.

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