Eric Hartzell grew up in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. Most kids from Minnesota grow up dreaming of playing for the Golden Gophers of the University of Minnesota or “The U” as it’s referred to in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. If not “The U”, then North Dakota, St. Cloud or Minnesota-Duluth are next in line as perennial favorites for those who grew up in Minnesota.
Hartzell ended up playing his college hockey far from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. The former Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL) netminder took his talents to Hamden, Connecticut and the ECAC. After three very respectable but ordinary seasons for the Quinnipiac Bobcats, Hartzell elevated his game this season to a whole new level.
How much did he elevate his game?
Hartzell is one of ten finalists for the prestigious Hobey Baker Award. He was also named the ECAC Player of the Year and Goaltender of the Year.
His 27-6-5 record with a 1.52 goals against average and .934 save percentage helped take the Quinnipiac program to new heights. The Bobcats were the number one overall seed in the NCAA Tournament when the field was announced Sunday night on ESPNU. Rand Pecknold’s team will face Canisius College in the first round of the East Regional in Providence. If QU wins, they’ll face either Boston College or Union College in the regional final. The Bobcats were the ECAC Regular Season Champions and ranked number one in the USCHO Division I Men’s Poll for several weeks in the latter half of the season.
All of this was foreign ground to the Quinnipiac program. The Bobcats competed in the Atlantic Hockey Association until moving to the ECAC in 2005. Rand Pecknold’s program had only made the NCAA Division I Tournament once before, in 2002, but were promptly blasted out of the tournament by Cornell in the first round.
Hartzell stands tall at 6-4, 188lbs. He’ll graduate in May with a degree in business, but he plans on pursuing his hockey career past this year. With the numbers he’s put up this season, he’ll certainly be able to field numerous offers from NHL teams. At a recent game, one NHL scout from an Eastern Conference team who wished to remain anonymous said, “He’ll get some offers with his size. Just look at the position. The more net you cover, the more likely you are to get a chance.”
Still, Hartzell has plenty he’d like to accomplish at the collegiate level. The senior wants to end his college career in Pittsburgh at the 2013 NCAA Frozen Four. His Quinnipiac team will be heavy favorites in its first round game against Canisius. In the second round the Bobcats will either face a red-hot Union team or the Boston College Eagles, winners of three of the last five NCAA Titles.
Whatever the result is this weekend, Hartzell will have left Quinnipiac in a better position than when he arrived at the small campus four years ago.