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A Surreal Deal for Hartzell

by Wes Crosby / Pittsburgh Penguins

A day after manning the net in the NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey championship game Saturday at CONSOL Energy Center, Quinnipiac University goaltender Eric Hartzell signed a one-year entry-level contract with the NHL team that calls the arena home.

The deal runs through this season and has an average annual value of $925,000. Hartzell is eligible to play in regular-season games, but will not be able to play during the playoffs since he was signed after the trade deadline.

Eric Hartzell faced shots from Sidney Crosby this morning

Hartzell got a taste of life in the NHL on Wednesday when he suited up for a session against injured Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, forward James Neal and defenseman Paul Martin before Pittsburgh’s morning skate. He spent about a half an hour on the ice with those players, goalie development coach Mike Bales and Penguins coach Dan Bylsma while still wearing his pads streaked with Quinnipiac’s blue and gold.

The 23-year-old admitted he was slightly star-struck when meeting the game’s brightest star, now his teammate.

“It was a dream come true,” Hartzell said. “I think when I shook Sidney’s hand I was just kind of eye-opened. I was just kind of like ‘What do I do?’”

Hartzell didn’t mince words when explaining why he chose to sign with Pittsburgh, calling the Penguins “the greatest organization in hockey.”

“They offered me an opportunity to get better not only as a man, but as a hockey player,” Hartzell said.

He said he was in discussions with a few teams prior to signing, but was surprised when the Penguins offered him a contract, calling it “awesome.”

The 6-foot-4, 187-pound goalie was named one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award (college hockey’s version of the Heisman Trophy) after finishing third nationally in goals-against average (1.57), eighth in save percentage (.933) and tied for third in shutouts (5).

In his two Frozen Four contests in Pittsburgh last week, he surrendered four goals and posted a .937 save percentage.

Hartzell has a slender build, but displays uncanny athletic ability that was showcased during those games. He went from post-to-post with ease, had a quick glove and possessed superb reflexes. This was clear when he robbed several Yale forwards from golden opportunities during the championship game’s first two periods, keeping the game scoreless until Yale’s first goal with 3.5 seconds left in the second period.

He was even more impressive in the Bobcats’ semifinal matchup with St. Cloud State last Thursday, allowing just one goal on 34 shots faced to the nation’s third best offensive unit.

Although he’s had a marquee senior season at Quinnipiac, Hartzell laughed when asked what he expects his role to be with the Pens.

“Just whatever they tell me,” he said. “Whatever they tell me to do, I’ll do.”

Hartzell was a three-sport athlete in high school, playing football and baseball in addition to hockey. The former quarterback said he would like to think he’s “a little athletic.” His skill set can be compared to the Penguins’ Stanley Cup-winning netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, who Hartzell said he hopes to learn from in addition to Tomas Vokoun.

“They have two veteran goaltenders here who are just great guys and great goaltenders as well,” he said. “So, I’m pumped to be able to play behind them.”

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