Greatness on the goal line

Greatness on the goal line

Andrew Badillo

By: Victoria Rutigliano

It’s midway through the third period and the match-up between Quinnipiac and St. Lawrence is still scoreless. The referee just blew the whistle as Michael Garteig has made his fourth save in a row to keep the Bobcats in the game. With the stoppage of play, he raises his facemask. Turning around, he faces the sea of blue and yellow shirts cheering behind him. He grabs his water bottle and squirts it in front of him, watching as one drop falls to the ice.  This action is a test he does after almost every whistle to make sure he’s still focused on the game.

And focused Garteig has been.

At the midpoint of the season, the senior has won all but one game he’s played in (15-1-2, 6-0-2 ECAC). He has already registered 61 wins throughout his time as the Bobcats starting goalie, which is the most of any goaltender in Quinnipiac’s history. Assistant Coach Bill Riga attributes Garteig’s gradual success to one thing.

“His compete level,” Riga said. “Every shot was important in practice. Every shot was important in warm-ups. Every shot is important in a game. And he takes every puck seriously.”

Garteig’s compete level was shown when he made a diving stick save in the game against St. Lawrence the weekend of Nov. 20. The save was shown later that night on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays of the Night. He made 36 saves in the game against the Saints to help the Bobcats finish with a 0-0 tie.

The Bobcats currently leads the NCAA in team defense, only allowing an average of 1.39 goals per game. Due to his strength on the goal line, the players have been able to play with more confidence and get creative in front of the net. They know they have someone to bail them out on the back end.

“We have a theory if one guy messes up, the other guy is gonna bail you out,” Garteig said, “and you know it’s kind of what my job’s been this year.”

His job isn’t just stopping pucks. It’s being the kind of the defenseman the team can count on.

“He needs to be our best defender, our best penalty killer,” Riga said. If this happens, he said, it allows the other guys on the ice to play within their game.

The statistics have proven Garteig is just that. The team has a 90.3 percent conversion rate on the penalty kill and leads the ECAC with an average of 3.56 goals-per-game and a 1.32 goals-against-average.

He’s also played the most minutes out of any goalie in the NCAA.

“He’s so locked in that the ones (shots) that are even a little bit challenging, he makes them look easy,” Riga said. “He’s so confident and he feels on top of his game so he’s not having any issues with his confidence and he’s not letting in weak goals.”

Before coming to Quinnipiac, Garteig never had a goalie coach and had always played goalie just to play and stop pucks. Now that he’s had a constant goalie coach over the past two years, Jared Waimon, Garteig said he’s seen tremendous improvement.

“It’s been pretty crazy the progress I made,” Garteig said. “Since my skating’s improved I’m available to make easier saves, you know, I don’t have to make desperation saves because I’m in position to make saves.”

In Junior hockey, Garteig played in the British Columbia Hockey League for the Penticton Vees and led his team to 42 consecutive wins.

Garteig said in an interview with the Penticton Western News during his time in the BCHL, he considered himself a battler and focused more on his athleticism rather than his technicality.

However, after sitting his freshman season behind arguably Quinnipiac’s best goaltender ever, Eric Hartzell, Garteig learned that it’s not all about athleticism.

“All I could do was learn from him and I didn’t get to play very much behind him,” he said. “It just made me hungry, made me realize I want to play a lot of games and whenever I was given that opportunity I just wanted to take it and run with it.”

But Hartzell isn’t the only goalie Garteig’s been compared to.

Before the season started, Garteig seemed to be in the shadow of other ECAC goalies. These goalies include Kyle Hayton on St. Lawrence, Alex Lyon on Yale, and Mitch Gillam on Cornell.

In a SB Nation article written before the season started, players like Lyon and Hayton were called “chiseled vets”, while Garteig was considered a player still with “something to prove.”

Garteig was also said to be “a goalie who might not be the best in the country” but in the end “gets the job done” in an article written by College Hockey News during the preseason.

Quinnipiac’s starting goalie said this is something he’s dealt with for the past three years, but it’s never affected the way he’s played.

“I mean I think he’s proven, especially this year, that he’s as good as anyone else, if not better,” Jared Waimon said.

The standout goalie has now been awarded with Hockey Commissioners Association NCAA Player of the Month award in November and has been named ECAC Hockey’s Goaltender of the Month for both October and November.

He’s currently the only ECAC goalie named Goaltender of the Month this season and the only goalie named the HCA’s NCAA Player of the Month.

“I always want to prove people wrong,” he said. “But that’s just kind of the way I am and the person that I am.”