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No pressure: Michael Garteig takes over starting role, keeping cool the whole way there
Quinnipiac hoisted the banners from the men’s hockey team’s historic run on Oct. 19, reminding the sold out house of the legacy of the 2012-13 season. The 21 game unbeaten streak, the Frozen Four appearance, the Hobey Baker finalist, Eric Hartzell.
The former Bobcat goaltender, Hartzell, stood on the ice alongside Kevin Bui and Clay Harvey as proof hung before them that their senior season was, in fact, a reality and not a dream left over from the days of middle school street hockey.
But then the lights came on, workers rolled the red carpet off the ice and officials dropped the puck, making way for Michael Garteig to post 23 saves, letting up just one goal to a UMass-Lowell team, which, at the time, was ranked No. 9 in the nation.
Make no mistake. Garteig is not following in Hartzell’s footsteps. He is very much creating his own.
Garteig, standing in net, slides his Reebok stick in front of him from left to right and back again. In a swipe, he cleans the chipped up ice left from a rush of offense or a sliding save in the name of defense. With each motion, claiming the bit of blue ice in front of the goal as his territory.
The sophomore goaltender follows a natural rhythm of play, a beat that, until this season, he had not established in a Bobcat uniform. Garteig started just one game for Quinnipiac last season, a 2-1 loss to American International College.
Fast forward to 2013 and things are different. Through the end of November, Garteig started all 17 games, made over 300 saves and posted a winning record of 13-2-2.
Garteig, 22, arrived at Quinnipiac with 120 games played in the competitive British Columbia Hockey League under the Powell River Kings and the Penticton Vees. That experience proved valuable in helping Garteig fall seamlessly into place as the starting netminder.
“I really wanted to play and to show them that I could play, so I wasn’t nervous about only playing one game [last season],” Garteig said. “I know I have big shoes to fill, but it wasn’t really a big deal to me. I’m just trying to grasp my opportunities and go with it.”
And that attitude – letting things roll, wiping them clean and moving forward – only helps in this position of high anxiety. Hartzell relied on such quick, short moves and high energy that he could have spiked his water bottle with shots of espresso. On the other hand, Garteig is California cool from British Columbia and sips from the decaf pot.
Garteig is a walking metaphor for the distinction between last year’s national championship appearance and this season’s promise. When the whistle blows to stop play, no matter if an official calls a penalty or an opponent scores, what’s past remains the past. Stopping the next shot becomes the focal point yet again.
Not for nothing, Garteig’s reputation is not just one of his light-hearted nature. A lot of work supports his smooth demeanor.
Fellow sophomore Travis St. Denis and Garteig knew each other before either ever donned a gold uniform, playing side by side for the Vees. St. Denis has witnessed exactly how his teammate developed from his persistence on the ice while maintaining his personality.
“You can really see his work pay off,” St. Denis said. “He looks really good in net and he’s becoming one of the top goalies, I think, in the country right now, and it’s only going to get better. His work ethic is what really keeps him going.”
Garteig took the summer to do just that – work. He spent the offseason skating with Hartzell in Hamden. He learned from the goalie Hartzell was in college, as well as the one he became with his time in the National Hockey League.
“That’s probably when I learned the most from him surprisingly,” Garteig said. “During the year, he’s in his own world. He’s over there, and we’re here. I tried to just watch him and see what I could take out of it. Obviously, when you’re playing behind a guy like him, you’re going to learn something.”
By working with Hartzell, Garteig found that their relationship transformed. While the pressure to replace Hartzell may once have been present, head coach Rand Pecknold thinks that after this summer, “that’s gone now.”
Garteig, too, saw a change.
“In the summertime, it was really good because it wasn’t a competition anymore,” he said. “It wasn’t for me to play and for him to keep playing. It was more like, ‘I want you to play, and I want you to succeed, so this is what you should do.’”
Garteig credits summer training to improving his approach, saying he controls more, scrambles less and approaches the game simpler. Nonetheless, the will to make the save no matter what it takes remained.
“I’ve always been a hard worker on the ice,” Garteig said. “I kind of pride myself on that because that’s the type of goalie I am – a battler. Sometimes it’s not pretty, but it gets the job done.”
As much as Garteig learned through training and experience to keep his calm and steady presence that anchors the Quinnipiac defense, Pecknold says there are some things in his technique that are instinctual and intangible.
“He’s got a really good mentality for a goaltender,” Pecknold said after Quinnipiac defeated Brown on Nov. 8, winning 3-0. “He’s a highly competitive person. He wanted that shutout. You can’t teach that.”
Despite claiming the Eastern College Athletic Conference Goalie of the Month for October and November and multiple ECAC Goalie of the Week honors, Garteig keeps his skates on the ground. Success is determined by the whole, not its parts.
“I haven’t been, by any means, carrying the team,” Garteig said. “It’s been a good team game so far, and I’ve been lucky enough to get the opportunity to play. I’m just going to keep going and keep doing what I’m doing to maintain this level of play.”
This season has not only served as a testament to that fighter mentality that Garteig and his teammates see. It gave closure to one era of goaltending in Bobcat history and made way for the next.
Before Quinnipiac even took the ice against UMass-Lowell, the crowd chanted for Eric Hartzell. But it was Garteig who, at the end of the game, Pecknold called “the best player on the ice.”