Michael Garteig was supposed to have Sunday off.
Not that he wasn’t going to show up for work, but the original plan was for the Newfoundland Growlers’ goaltender to watch from the bench as Mario Culina got the start in the second of back-to-back ECHL games against the Brampton Beast at Mile One Centre.
But Culina suffered a lower body injury in practice this week, meaning Garteig was back to being what he has been for the last two months, a workhorse … and a winner.
The 27-year-old made 35 saves Sunday afternoon as the Growlers downed the Beast 5-2 for a weekend sweep; Newfoundland, with Garteig in goal, had also won 7-4 Friday, when Scott Pooley registered a hat trick for the winners.
That means, since the start of November, when they were a .500 team, the Growlers have gone 11-1-1 and now own a league-leading record of 16-6-1.
Garteig has started 18 of the team’s 23 games, going 12-5-1.
“This weekend, (Garteig played both games) was because of circumstance,” said Growlers’ assistant coach John Snowden, who has been the team’s bench boss the last seven games as Ryane Clowe continues to be sidelined with medical issues.
“Back-to-back games with a short turnaround, you normally want to manage that, but Garts came through again. He did a heck of job, which is the way it’s been all season. He’s done everything for us, all that you can ask of a goaltender, and it goes without saying we’re thankful.”
They were particularly thankful during the first period Sunday, when the Growlers were suffering from the chronic Mile One malaise that comes with back-to-back games.
Newfoundland was sluggish and the visitors looked determined to take points back to Brampton, but Garteig barred the Beast (9-10-3) at door while his teammates got their act together.
In that opening frame, he stopped two breakaways, including one by Nathan Todd on a breakaway, and made several more stone-cold stops from in close.
And just seconds after Chris Batstone’s “One minute left in the period” announcement over the Mile One speakers, Sam Babintsev put Newfoundland on the board, redirecting an Andrew Cortese shot past Brampton netminder Jake Paterson. That had to provide a boost to the Growlers, who probably had a congratulatory receiving line for their goalie in the dressing room during the intermission.
“When we falter in areas and give up those types of scoring chances, he’s been there to make those saves. Obviously, we want to clean up a couple of things, but to know he’s there, doing what he does, allows us to do that,” said Snowden, who has guided the bench in Clowe’s absence for 10 games this season, but never at home before this weekend.
“It’s no secret. I think, as a team, we have a little bit of problem with the back-to-back games,” agreed Garteig. “The first game, we come out and spank teams and maybe the second game, we’re just a little bit too complacent.
“So that’s something we need to work on, but that’s everyone, myself included.
“I’m just glad to have been able glad to make some saves in the first period to help get us kick-started.”
And Newfoundland was much better in the second, getting a power-play goal from J.J, Piccinich to go up 2-0. But Paterson was solid, too, and the Beast hung in with a tally from Aaron Luchuk, meaning it was still a one-goal lead heading into the third period.
The Growlers increased the margin with goals less than a minute apart midway through the final frame, including what would stand as the game-winner by Brady Ferguson, who had missed a number of shifts earlier in the game after getting kneed by the Beast’s Macoy Erkamps.
Evan Neugold, with his first as a Growler, scored 44 seconds later and Pooley, with his 10th of the season, provided extra insurance six minutes after that.
Todd scored on a Brampton power play shortly afterwards, but it amounted to a last punch in a bout that had already been decided.
Garteig hadn’t like the way he played Saturday, when he gave up four goals on 43 shots, but was prepared for an improved showing just 21 hours later.
“I feel that second game, you may be a little bit more tired, but you’re more into it, if that makes sense,” he said.
“I woke up today and felt great and I knew I’d have a better game.”
With Mario Culina injured, local senior hockey goalie A.J. Whiffen once again served as an emergency back-up for the Growlers on the weekend. Whiffen, who normally plays with the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts. had done the same for one game earlier in the season … Giorgio Estephan, who had been returned from the AHL’s Toronto Marlies on Friday, had three assists on the weekend. That means he and Brady Ferguson share the team points (25) and goal-scoring (12) lead and sit atop the list of rookie scorers in the ECHL … As part of the league’s partnership with Nickelodeon, the Growlers wore special Paw Patrol jerseys Sunday featuring Chase, a character from the cartoon, where the logo of a Newfoundland Dog normally would be. Six of the 18 game-worm jerseys were put up for a silent auction Sunday, with the rest to be distributed for other events/campaigns later in the seasons … Not dressed for the Growlers Sunday were forwards Marcus Power, Matt Bradley, Derian Plouffe (IR) and Maxim Mizyurin, and defenceman Adam Pardy, Cody Smith and Ilya Nekolenko. Power and Bradley had played Saturday, but were replaced by Todd Skirving and Sam Babintsev for the second game … Neither Pardy or Mizyurin have played any games this season because of injury, but Pardy is practicing without a red no-contact jersey … Smith was signed late last week, meaning he’s on a second stint with the Growlers, who had released him a couple of weeks ago … Attendance Sunday was 3,883, following a turnout of 4,257 on Saturday … It was a home-team sweep of the three stars Sunday, with Ferguson, Garteig and Evan Neugold getting tagged 1-2-3 … Scott Pooley’s hat trick made him an obvious first star Saturday, while Hunter Elyniuk, who had a goal and two assists in that contest, was the third star. Daniel Ciampini, who had three helpers for Brampton was second star … In their Saturday win, Zach O’Brien, Josh Kestner and Ferguson also scored for Newfoundland, while David Pacan, with two markers, Nathan Todd and David Vallorini replied for Brampton…. After playing six games, with travel, in 12 days, the Growlers don’t play again until Friday, when they hoist the Reading Royals in the third game of what will be a six-game home stand …