Despite tough night in net, Hartzell was key to Quinnipiac season

It has been a commonplace phrase from Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold during the Bobcats’ postgame news conferences this season:

“Eric Hartzell was the best player on the ice tonight.”

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But that wasn’t the case Saturday following the national championship game against Yale, as Pecknold saved that description for opposing goalie Jeff Malcolm, who made 36 saves to help the Bulldogs to their first national title.

“He won that game for them,” Pecknold said.

That’s not to ignore the contributions that Hartzell, a Hobey Baker Award finalist and the ECAC Hockey player of the year, made for Quinnipiac this season. Take him away and the Bobcats aren’t even in this position.

“Eric was still the best player in college hockey,” Pecknold said. “I think he’s most the most dominant player in college hockey. He should have won the Hobey Baker. I don’t want to take anything away from Drew [LeBlanc]. He’s a great player. I wish he could have gotten that second one back. He was awesome against St. Cloud on Thursday. He was awesome all year for us.”

But there’s also no questioning that Hartzell appeared a bit off Saturday. He made 27 saves but allowed three goals, the first coming with 3.5 seconds left in the second period.

The senior went behind the net to play the puck and cleared it along the boards, where Yale’s Gus Young beat a Bobcats defender and threw a shot on net that Clinton Bourbonais tipped in between Hartzell’s pads.

“It was just a fluky goal. That’s what happens when you get pucks to the net, weird bounces happen,” Hartzell said. “I didn’t really see the shot. It was deflected and it was bouncing and they redirected it right through my five hole. Only bad things can happen when you throw it on net, good things in [Yale’s] case.”

Bourbonais’ goal broke a nearly two-game long scoreless stretch for the Bulldogs against Quinnipiac. Kenny Agostino scored 1:51 into the third period a 4-1 loss on Feb. 22, while Hartzell blanked Yale 3-0 in the ECAC consolation game March 23.

“That’s one of the reasons we stress if you don’t have a player in front of you, put the puck on net, because oftentimes those are the ones that surprise people and go in,” Bulldogs coach Keith Allain said of the goal. “It changed our mind-set going into the third period because we had the lead.”

Yale’s second goal came on an odd-angle shot by Charles Orzetti, who chased down his own rebound and then flung the puck on net from the left goal line, sneaking it in short side over Hartzell’s arm.

The Quinnipiac goalie was left alone on a breakaway by Andrew Miller, but seemed surprised as the puck trickled through his pads and into the back of the net. It was the third Yale goal in just over a nine-minute stretch spanning the second and third periods.

But that sequence was surprising, as Hartzell looked sharp in the early going. The Quinnipiac goalie came up with several big saves, gloving a blast by Agostino in the first, and then holding Yale scoreless on an extended five-on-three power play in the second period.

“I felt fine,” Hartzell said. “It’s the game of hockey; you’re going to let goals in sometimes.”

Hartzell finished his senior season with a record of 30-7-5, a .933 save percentage, and a 1.57 goals against average. He’ll leave Quinnipiac to likely start a pro career in possession of the school record for shutouts, save percentage and goals against average.

“He’s been our best player all season,” Bobcats forward Matthew Peca said of Hartzell. “He’s probably the biggest reason we’re here. He didn’t play bad but that’s just the way hockey goes. In a game like that we have to bail him out and we didn’t.”