In the winter and spring of 2013, Eric Hartzell was the big man on campus at Quinnipiac. Becoming a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, the goaltender lead the Bobcats to the NCAA's championship game. After wrapping up his collegiate career, he signed with the Penguins and was exposed to a professional environment of a team which advanced to the Eastern Conference final.
Last season, Hartzell didn't experience nearly the same level of success in his first professional season which was split between Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Wheeling. Overall, he appeared in 25 AHL games, was 10-8-1 record with a 2.48 goals-against average and .902 save percentage. While he did win the AHL's goaltender of the month award in January, he did not record a win past Feb. 7 as veterans Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers and Peter Mannino served as the AHL Penguins' primary starter in net.
With Hartzell a candidate to become the organization's No. 3 goaltender, he's hoping for a big rebound in 2013-14. Yesterday, he talked about his first professional season:
How do you evaluate your first season as a professional?
Definitely a unique experience. There was a lot of things that you learn in college and you can bring to the next level. Then when you get to the next level, there’s a bunch of stuff to learn. So I think last year for me… I had lots of success and there was definitely a lot of rocky moments. But I think the year in general, the ups and downs, really helped me learn about myself and my hockey game. I really benefited a lot this summer from having that experience. Working on the things that I struggled with my first year [professionally], I was able to recognize that, analyze it and respond in the summer. Ultimately, it made me a better player and a better person.
What was it like bouncing between the AHL and ECHL?
I’ve never experienced something like that before. Having the experience last year was a little bit tough not really understanding why. If you get called down or you get called up, just continue doing what you’re doing and keep working on your game. The mental aspect of the game I learned a lot from. I was able to get the right people in my corner this summer and work on it. I’m definitely ready for if anything like that happens again.
What's the biggest difference between the college and professional levels?
Oh, honestly it’s a list full. As far as the play, the players a lot better. They shoot a lot better. The playmaking on the ice is a lot better. The biggest adjustment is the mental game. It’s a lot longer season. You’ve got to be able to maintain your body. Maintain your head a little bit.
Two seasons ago, you had so much success at Quinnipiac and last season, there were struggles. What was it like in that respect?
For me it was a learning experience. At the time, I wanted everything to come quick. If success doesn’t happen overnight, it takes a lot of time and a lot of experience. The downs might have even been what I learned the most from. [Head coach John Hynes and assistant coach Alain Nassreddine] and all those guys, they really helped, especially at the end of the year. They talked to me a lot. They explained what I need to work on mentally and physically this summer. I did that. The game feels good right now. I try to keep that stable mentality and hopefully that will help my whole season.
Do you have any specific goals this season in terms of games played, wins, etc.?
I definitely have my own goals I don’t think I’m going to share with anybody. One thing I will share with the media and everybody else is that I just want to help wherever I’m at. I want to help that team win. Obviously you want to win a championship and all that but those but those are long-term goals. I’m just focused on the short-term and for me that just keeping stable mentally and taking it day by day. Next puck, next puck.
You played with two veterans last season. Did you learn anything specifically from them?
Never too high. Never too low. Deslauriers was a good guy to look after. I think Mannino was the greatet of all time really. He’s a really down to earth guy. He’s a veteran. He’s open. He always wants to talk and help coach you. Those guys did a really great job. At the end of the year, they gave me their [phone] numbers and I was able to call them this summer and talk to them a little bit and ask them certain questions and pick their brains.