By Garry Raible
December 16, 2013 (ISN) – Did you know that the average age of goaltenders in today’s NHL is 29? You can always find exceptions to every rule in hockey’s history books but it is a common theory that goaltenders take time to develop, to sharpen their skills in junior leagues or college hockey and then in the minor pro ranks.
B.C. Hockey League alumnus, Michael Garteig, appears to be right on track. The 22-year old native of Prince George put up some impressive numbers during his last two seasons in the BCHL. We’re talking Goaltender-of-the-Year numbers.
A league-record 1.69 goals-against average and 36 wins for the 2010-11 Powell River Kings. A 41-4 record with the 2011-12 Penticton Vees who won 42 consecutives games on the way to the Royal Bank Cup Canadian Junior A’Championship.
PHOTO COURTESY QUINNIPIAC ATHLETICS
Two seasons later, Garteig is putting up winning numbers as the starting goaltender for the Quinnipiac University Bobcats of the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference. At the time of this writing, he had been named ECAC Goaltender of the Week three times and Goalie of the Month for October and November. Garteig is among the top goalies in the NCAA Division One in save percentage and goals-against average and he played every minute of a Bobcats’ 13-game unbeaten streak that had the team as one of the Top-5 ranked in the nation.
“Yes, he’s a winner,” says Fred Harbinson, his coach for that last Junior A season in Penticton. “He had that winning presence about him that tends to rub off on his teammates.” Rewind the videotape to the 2011-12 Doyle Cup playoff series against Alberta’s Brooks Bandits with the winner go ing to the national championship. Garteig hadn’t played a meaningful game in seven weeks because of an ankle injury and Harbinson went ahead with a decision to start his number one goaltender after backup Chad Katunar backstopped Penticton to a 1-0 series lead.
Garteig sparkled in a 43-save, 1-0 victory and called it the best game of his career. Harbinson called it a momentum-shifter for the Vees.
“I told Michael that he was going to start Game 2,” he said. “I didn’t tell anyone else about that decision, nobody on the team knew, except Michael. No disrespect to Chad, but Michael was our number one goalie all year and I felt I owed it to him to get him back in there. The guys got a real boost from having him back in there and the way he played in that critical game pretty much gave us control of the series.”
It’s been said that winning is a state of mind that embraces everything you do and that certainly fits the Michael Garteig profile. His reputation preceded him moving from Powell River to Penticton and from the BCHL to Quinnipiac University, a private co-ed school located in Hamden, Connecticut. The school, which was founded in 1929, has a student body of 8,400 and is named for an aboriginal tribe.
“He was actually the backup goalie in Powell River when I first saw him,” says Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold. “You could tell, even in warm-ups, that he had quite a compete level.
We just thought he had such a great battle mode, which is a very important component for any successful goaltender.”
“Michael is athletic, big, mobile and intense,” said his coach in Powell River, Kent Lewis, when quoted in the website HockeyNow in March of 2011. “He’s a leader. You want consistency game in and game out and you know what you’re going to get from him.”
Well, maybe not all the time. In the summer of 2011, Garteig decided to defer his freshman year at Quinnipiac, forcing Powell River to trade him, eventually, to Penticton. “I needed to get some eligibility issues cleared up,” says Garteig. “And the goaltending situation at Quinnipiac? They had a real good junior, Eric Hartzell, who I knew was going to play a lot so I figured it wouldn’t kill me to play one more year in junior. It turned out to be an awesome year, and one I’ll never forget.”
Pecknold was caught off-guard by the decision and it forced him to change his plans regarding the Bobcats’ goaltending.
“Michael told me he wanted to space out more from Hartzell, who was going into his junior year. The way it worked out, he comes in as a freshman, Hartzell completes his senior year. Michael becomes our starter, as a sophomore, and we get three years out of him instead of two.”
Eric Hartzell would go on to an All-America season, leading Quinnipiac to the NCAA Frozen Four and a nomination for the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s best player.
Garteig was his backup and, after logging 2,500-plus minutes in back-toback BCHL seasons, he was reduced to a line in the media guide that read: five games, 118 minutes played, four goalsagainst, and a record of 0-1-0.
“It was a humbling experience and, in a way, I guess I got put in my place,”
Garteig says. “I learned a lot last year especially playing behind Hartzell. I felt that I dealt with it well, especially the mental side of it which has never been an issue with me. We were having team success and it made me realize how much of a team game this is.”
Someone once said that ‘winning is a habit’ and it certainly didn’t hurt Garteig’s development to be associated with a winning season where Quinnipiac came within one game of the NCAA title. He stepped right into the crease vacated by Hartzell and the Bobcats haven’t missed a beat.
“You have to give him props,” says Chris Kotsopoulos, a member of Quinnipiac’s broadcast team, who played 500 games in the NHL and AHL. “He stepped right into a pressure situation and there hasn’t been a drop-off at all. Some of the coaches I’ve talked to think he might be a better goalie than Hartzell. He’s very quick, he knows his angles, he has a good glove and blocker. I’ll tell you one thing, he has some of the best pad work for a butterfly goalie that I’ve seen in a long time.”
Garteig admits that he’s changed his goaltending style over the last year. “I’m a little more technical than I used to be,” he says. “I was pretty erratic when I played in the BCHL. I’ve definitely rounded out my game. I’ve learned to play the position a lot better than I used to”. Is it a game good enough to realize his long-time dream of playing in the NHL?
“I was a little surprised that I didn’t get any draft interest after my last season in Powell River,” says Garteig, who is now being closely watched by pro scouts and NHL general managers monitoring the Bobcats’ season. “The way I look at it now, I’m a free agent and with a couple of good years here I might be able to follow what Eric (Hartzell) did. He’s playing in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. I feel I can do it. I’m playing high-level hockey and there are a lot more options coming out of college. You get a lot more time to develop, four years, and I’m okay with that.”
It generally takes several years after his draft year for a goaltender to mature as a professional. Michael Garteig doesn’t appear to be taking any shortcuts along the way.