As a marketing major at Quinnipiac, Eric Hartzell understands the value of exposure.
That's what he got for the better part of two months after his collegiate career ended. Signing as an undrafted free agent, Hartzell was a member of the Penguins' NHL roster and was exposed to life as a professional athlete. While he dressed for only one game and never played a minute of NHL hockey, Hartzell learned invaluable lessons which he hopes will help him become a full-time NHLer.
Today, Hartzell re-signed with the team as he agreed to a two-year two-way contract. With goaltender Brad Thiessen leaving Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as a free agent, it appears Hartzell has a chance to get his first true taste of professional action at the AHL level next season.
Earlier this week, he talked about his time with the Penguins, the differences between college and the professional ranks and his future.
What was it like being a member of the Penguins immediately after your college career at Quinnipiac concluded?
"It was just fun. I’ve said it about 100 times, I was just a sponge … soaking up everything I could. Getting used to what the professionals deal with on a daily basis. Seeing how they live and how they handle themselves through ups and downs. I had a great time. I wouldn’t trade it for anything."
You were limited to a practice-only situations in the NHL, but what's different about the game professionally compared to college?
"It’s faster. It’s quicker. I think the biggest adjustment for me was the first day I got here, I was with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, [James] Neal and [Paul] Martin, [some] of the best shooters in the NHL. It was a big adjustment right away but it was fun. The release of the shot, the quickness, how big these guys are, how strong, just the game in general. It’s quicker, stronger, faster."
Why did you chose to join the Penguins?
"The best organization in hockey. I think there’s been some unbelievable players that came through this organization. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin. Every year these guys can win a Stanley Cup. Ray [Shero] presented me with an opportunity to succeed if I hold up my end of the bargain."
Did you get any time off between the Penguin season ending to coming back here for development camp?
"I got about two and half weeks off. It wasn’t quite enough to go see family but I spent some time on the beach which was nice. Two and a half weeks later I was back in the weight room and on the ice. It’s all been a process and you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do."
How different is travel as a professional?
"The experience when I got here was so surreal because everything was first class. You’re on a plane with your own first class seat that’s twice as big as a coach class seat. You get food on the plane. You have to dress in a suit which is well worth it when you’ve got all these other accommodations. Everything’s just first class here. I’ve been treated so well here. It’s been an amazing ride."
The living accommodations are probably a little better than what you were used in college.
"I remember when I got here, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be by myself or with a roommate but they had me on the seventh floor of the Cambria [Suites] with my own room in a king sized bed that was probably the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in in my entire life so I was happy with that."
Off the ice, how much have you learned about nutrition?
"I’m not great with my nutrition. I’ve gotten a lot better the last couple of years. You’ve notice a difference when you don’t eat well because you don’t get the right kind of nutrition when you don’t eat well because you don’t get the right kind of energy that you need as a professional athlete. Paying attention to nutrition is huge.'
Are there differences in terms of practicing?
"The practices are definitely different. The NCAA has so many rules I couldn’t even tell you but I think it’s four hours a day your allowed with the team or it’s a certain amount a week that translates to four a day. [Professionally] you show up, you practice and you do what you’ve got to do to be better. [In college], it’s very team-oriented where as the team gets that one spot at one time and you work out as a team and skate as a team.. Normally, we skate for two hours. [Professionally] you’ve got to show up at a certain time. Most of the pros get here early. You basically are own your own. You have to hold yourself accountable here. I like that because if you can hold yourself accountable, you’re not going to have any problems."
There appears to be an opening for a goaltender at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Do you identify that as an opportunity for yourself?
"I’m just going to do what [Penguins management] tell me to do, where ever they tell me to go. That’s all I can control is how good I play. They’re going to tell me what to do and I’m going to do my best where ever that is and hopefully it works out for me."
(Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)