Many high school athletes work hard at their game. But Luke Andriuk wasn't always one of them.

"I didn't really do much physically until last year," the Staples High School ice hockey player admits.

Since last winter, however, a switch has been turned on. The senior is now set on playing professional hockey after graduation. And he's doing everything he can to achieve that goal.

Andriuk didn't play his first hockey game until fifth grade. The attraction then, he laughs, was "the equipment. I really thought the pads were great. His first coaches, on the Stamford Sharks, gave him forward's equipment -- not the goalie's pads he expected -- but he put them on, gave it a go, and realized he enjoying playing as much as wearing hockey gear.

He trained with his father, got better, and in seventh grade became a goalie. That's not an easy position.

"You need to constantly maintain your focus," Andriuk explains. "The play isn't always in your end, but you have to be alert all the time.

"If a goal is scored on you, you have to let it go. It happens. The easiest way to stop the next shot is to forget the last one."

But Andriuk lacked physical speed and strength. His play, he says, "was not exactly stellar." Then, last fall, he began working out with Jay Mountain of Fast Fitness.

"Two of my teammates were there, and some pros work out there too," Andriuk says. He went four days a week, and enjoyed the "targeted, creative" sessions. His mentality also changed.

His play also benefited from working once a week with goalie coach Jared Waimon, the co-owner of Connecticut Crease in Cromwell.

"I'd never had a coach who targeted goalie skills," says Andriuk. "He fixed things in my game I never thought about. It's hard to change muscle memory -- things like glove movement -- but I definitely improved."

In the spring, following his Staples season, Andriuk tried out for two teams. He was one of 40 goalies seeking a spot on the very competitive Hartford Junior Wolfpack, and just missed out. But he earned a position with the Seacoast Kings Midget AAA Under-18 squad in Stamford, as one of two starting goalies.

Over the summer Andriuk attended several camps, both to improve and to get tryout experience. He's got more tryouts ahead -- because, unlike many Staples seniors, he's not headed to college next fall.

"I'm going to try out for the Wolfpack again," Andriuk says matter-of-factly. "I want to make either the A or B squad."

College is not disregarded; it's simply deferred. Andriuk hopes that playing with a high-level team can lead to an offer from a Division I college hockey program.

"The only way I can do that is with a team like the Junior Wolfpack, which college scouts watch," he says.

His friends and parents fully support him. "The see my drive to pursue my dream of playing professional hockey," Andriuk adds. "College will be there, whether I make the pros or not. It's just a question of whether it will be two years from now, or four."

He praises his mother. "More and more, she's driving me to follow this dream. Last year, she wouldn't have been so sure."

His motivation comes from stories his coaches tell of players who have won national championships after starting the game late. He's inspired too by working out with professionals like John Quick (the starting goalie for the National Hockey League's Los Angeles Kings), and Kevin Shattenkirk of the Colorado Avalanche.

"They work so hard every day," Andriuk says. "It's amazing to see how dedicated -- but normal -- they are."

Recently, Andriuk was invited to a pro skate with them in Stamford. "It was lightning-fast, with pinpoint shots -- like nothing I'd ever seen," he describes. "I held my own for a while. Then it got tough."

Hockey is not a big sport at Staples -- and that suits Andriuk fine. "I go into every game knowing it will be a challenge. Instead of going in thinking we'll get killed, I go in knowing I'll see lots of shots, I'll save a lot, and we'll win."

At Staples, Andriuk loves Italian -- the language, and the class. Outside of school he enjoys wakeboarding, wake surfing -- anything on the water.

But if you're looking for Luke Andriuk, it's best to look at the rink, or in the gym. That's where he's dreaming his dream -- and doing all he can to reach it.