Freshmen add championship experience to seasoned squad
Second in the USCHO.com poll and first in the PairWise rankings, the Bobcats are preparing for an ECAC Hockey title run and an opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournmanent. But on a team with 11 seniors, it is two freshman teammates, Travis St. Denis and Michael Garteig, that already have championship experience.
Teammates on the 2011-12 Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League, St. Denis and Garteig led their junior league squad to the Royal Bank Cup for the second time in the franchise’s history. The Royal Bank Cup is presented to the top Canadian Junior A team of the Canadian Junior Hockey League, which consists of 10 smaller divisions that make up the league, including the BCHL.
“We had a special team last year,” St. Denis said. “Even after training camp we knew we had something special.”
During the first round of the BCHL playoffs, Penticton defeated the Chilliwack Chiefs in six games, a series that St. Denis described as a “struggle.” From that point on, the Vees took eight of their next nine games, defeating the Merritt Centennials and the Powell River Kings en route to winning the Fred Page Cup of the BCHL.
After securing the BCHL championship, Penticton then competed against the Brooks Bandits, champions of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, for the Doyle Cup, a series that Penticton won in just five games. The win punched the Vees ticket for the national championship held in Humboldt, Saskatchewan. After bypassing initial round-robin play and the semifinals, the Vees were slated to square off against the Woodstock Slammers in the national championship.
Yet, the beginning of best-of-seven set didn’t exactly go as planned.
“We lost our first two games,” St. Denis said. “Our coach put us into perspective. I think the guys kind of thought it [the national championship] was just going to get handed to us. After we lost those first two games, guys really picked it up.”
Penticton took the series in seven games, winning its second Royal Bank Cup and setting a North American record of 42 straight wins in the process.
“It’s something you look back on now and it gives you shivers,” Garteig said. “We got a lot of attention from TV. It was pretty special. There’s the BCHL record, the sports record, and then the national sports record. It was a confidence we had, and it led right to a national championship.”
Through his season with Penticton, St. Denis tallied 37 goals and 52 assists in just 54 games played. Meanwhile, Garteig went 41-4-0 with a 1.93 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage in 2011-2012 as the starting goaltender. Furthermore, Garteig was also honored with the 2012 BCHL Goaltending Award, an accolade given to the goaltender with the lowest goals against average.
In transitioning to collegiate play, St. Denis was immediately plugged in as a second liner, playing alongside junior Jordan Samuels-Thomas and senior Jeremy Langlois, while Garteig assumed the role of back-up behind Eric Hartzell.
“They (Samuels-Thomas and Langlois) really helped me transition, and easily,” St. Denis said. “The coaches did as well. Staying out after practice helped me. Most of all, definitely my linemates [helped].”
Prior to Tuesday evening’s contest against former Heroes Hat opponent the University of Connecticut, Quinnipiac is riding a 16-game unbeaten streak, while playing to a record of 11-0-1 in conference play. The Jan. 21 USCHO.com poll placed Quinnipiac at No. 2 in the nation, while the Bobcats rank first in the PairWise poll.
As of Jan. 21, St. Denis leads all freshman Bobcats with nine points and is tied for fifth on the team with five goals.
Garteig, however, has seen limited action between the pipes due to Hartzell’s Hobey Baker candidate season. In 97:50 minutes play, Garteig has recorded a 2.45 goals-against average, while stopping 26 of 30 shots.
From a recruiting standpoint, both athletes heavily appealed to Quinnipiac due to their junior hockey success.
“Several things stuck out about Garteig and St. Denis. First, they have a ton of talent. They both were dominant in the BCHL,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. “Second, they’re highly competitive players who flat out compete. Third, they have great character, and they’re great in the locker room.”
Garteig has seen the team’s energy from the bench and believes the chemistry has been solid.
“Coming here and winning as well, [there are] not too many lows,” Garteig said. “When you’re winning, it’s usually fun, and that’s what it seems like on the bench right now. The guys gel really well off the ice and on the ice. You win games, you have fun, and you’re not bickering at each other.”
As Quinnipiac continues to rattle off victories, St. Denis feels his gameplay has improved due to the knowledge of his coaches and has ambitions for the stretch run of the season.
“Everyday I come to the rink with a fresh mind, ready to learn new things,” St. Denis said. “[The] coaching staff does a good job during practice teaching everyone new things. My main focus right now is to just stay in the lineup, contribute anyway I can for the team, whether it’s blocking shots, scoring goals, taking hits.”
Garteig on the other hand hopes to see time during the final games of the season and to improve his skills this summer.
“I got to make sure I get better this year, focus on my practices, support Hartzell and push him as much as I can,” Garteig said. “For next year, it’s my goal to take the ball and roll with it. I just got to focus on getting better this year and setting myself up for next.”