Heading into the Newfoundland Growlers’ inaugural season in the fall of 2018-19, goaltender Michael Garteig wasn’t sure he had much of a future in hockey.
In his collegiate days, Garteig was a legend at his alma mater at Quinnipiac, leading the club to a conference title and the NCAA Finals in his last collegiate season in 2016.
Living out of a suitcase for his first two seasons of professional hockey, Garteig was shuttled around North America as a member of the Vancouver Canucks organization, unable to make the most of his opportunities in Utica (AHL), Alaska, or Kalamazoo (ECHL).
Entering his season in Newfoundland in the fall of 2018, the thoughts ran through his mind that this season could be his last in professional hockey. But lucky for Garteig, he found himself and his game during a whirlwind season on the edge of the North Atlantic ocean.
“When I came to Newfoundland, I wasn’t really sure if I was going to continue playing hockey after that,” Garteig admitted. “I just really wanted to enjoy myself and I couldn’t have gotten luckier. Going to Newfoundland and St. John’s, in particular, was a perfect balance.”
Needless to say, the 2018-19 season on the Rock went about as well as possible for Garteig. Following a solid regular season, Garteig caught fire in the Kelly Cup playoffs, playing every single minute between the pipes for Newfoundland en route to the province’s first professional hockey title.
Instead of calling it quits, Garteig’s professional career has skyrocketed since his Kelly Cup performance in June 2019. Last season, he was one of the top goaltenders in Liiga, the top professional hockey league in Finland, and this season, he has continued his world tour with a stop in the top league in Germany, the DEL, with ERC Ingolstadt.
Currently a win away from the DEL finals in their semi-final series against Eisbaren Berlin, Garteig remains thankful to be playing the game he loves after three seasons of intense highs and lows in North America.
“Its been challenging,” he admits.
“No fans, which obviously sucks for us here in Germany. They have soccer hooligan fans for hockey in Germany. You get tested for Covid four or five times a week, it’s just crazy. But in saying that, we’re playing hockey. I’m happy to be playing and thankful I was able to play. That’s all that matters.”
But what was it about his incredible season in Newfoundland that helped change his mind about his hockey future and allowed him to take these massive steps ahead in his career?
“It made me appreciate the game in a whole new way,” he said of his season in the black, gold, and white.
“It made me realize that I didn’t have to obsess over hockey to be successful. I could enjoy life and have a balance of hockey and social skills. I take that with me today. I feel like that’s why I had success in Finland, I had that same philosophy.”
He’s not the only member of his team who has experienced the magic of playing in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Garteig is joined by former St. John’s Maple Leafs Head Coach Doug Shedden, as well as Habs-era St. John’s IceCap Morgan Ellis, all of whom echo Garteig’s sentiments about this special place.
“They all feel the same way,” he said with a smile.
“They all loved St. John’s and think it’s some of the finest years they have ever had. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve wanted to come back, just to visit and walk down George Street again and see the b’ys. It was such a fun year. I have such fond memories.”
It was those memories and experiences in Newfoundland and Labrador that helped renew Garteig’s passion for the game. While he wouldn’t specify where, Garteig believes he will remain in Europe next season to continue on his hockey journey.
Regardless of where he ends up, Garteig will always take his Growlers experience with him wherever he goes.
“I won in juniors, I won in college and I won in the ECHL and nothing compares to that ECHL championship. You share that common goal of just winning and not caring about the other stuff. It’s probably what made us so special. Man, we had so much fun throughout the year.”