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Before McAdam’s late-season call-up to Marlies, there might have been questions about the choice as playoff starter; well, there aren’t any now
You could make a good case for Zach O’Brien being the Newfoundland Growlers’ most valuable player so far in the ECHL playoffs. After all, O’Brien leads the Growlers in scoring, his plus-minus rating is Newfoundland’s best, and his 11 goals not only top his team, but are tied for best among all players whose clubs have been chasing the Kelly Cup.
Even then, it might be hard to give O’Brien the nod over goaltender Michael Garteig, who has played every minute (save for a few when he was pulled for an extra attacker) of Newfoundland’s post-season games this spring. The 27-year-old from British Columbia has been a stalwart for Newfoundland in its playoff march, which includes wins over the Florida Everblades in the opening matches of the Eastern Conference final, a best-of-seven series that continues with Game 3 at Mile One Centre tonight (7 p.m.)
Garteig tops the entire league in playoff wins (10), minutes played (864) and saves (424), while posting a solid 2.15 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.
But while Garteig is the obvious keystone for what the Growlers have constructed so far in the playoffs, he didn’t appear to be a clear-cut choice as Newfoundland’s starter just days before the start of the post-season.
He and Eamon McAdam had basically alternated starts after McAdam was reassigned to the Growlers by the AHL’s Toronto Marlies in mid-January. And McAdam had a slightly better record in that stretch, going 9-4-2 compared to 8-5-3 for Garteig.
What’s more, it could be argued McAdam had the higher profile within the Toronto Maple Leafs’ organization as the possessor of a National Hockey League entry-level contract and having spent pretty much half his season in the AHL with the Marlies. He even saw a bit of time in the NHL as an emergency backup for the Maple Leafs.
Garteig, meanwhile, is operating on an AHL deal he signed with Toronto mid-season and had appeared in just a couple of AHL games with the Marlies.
A couple of other things to consider, or at least remember:
McAdam had been the choice as the Growlers’ opening-night starter last October, although he was recalled to the AHL just days later, allowing Garteig to begin establishing himself as a workhorse for Newfoundland.
And before this spring, Garteig hadn’t played a single playoff game as a pro. While McAdam only had appeared in four playoff games since coming out of college, those games had come recently, in last year’s Kelly Cup playoffs when he was a member of the Worcester Railers.
But if all those factors had left Growlers’ head coach John Snowden hooked on the horns of a dilemma as he pondered his team’s playoff set-up, he was extricated when McAdam was once again called up to the Marlies just before the final weekend of the ECHL regular season.
McAdam returned to Newfoundland three weeks ago, but by that time, Garteig had done what he did in the fall, running with the opportunity that came as the Growlers’ de facto No. 1 and proving that could handle a steady and heavy workload.
When asked if he might reveal who would have his goaltending choice has McAdam not been recalled in the middle of April, Snowden chuckled.
“I’ll tell you, but it won’t be until after the playoffs,” he said. “But really, I think it’s clear (Garteig) was a good choice, no matter how it happened … and that‘s what counts.
“But I know McAdam would have been a good choice, too. So the way you should look at it is that we’re fortunate. I think anyone who knows our team will tell you we have two No. 1s, or a 1 and 1A, and I know our guys are going to be confident no matter who we have in there.”
The Growlers aren’t the only team who have options in goal.
Florida started the playoffs with Jeremy Hellvig as No. 1 after he had appeared in more than half of Florida’s regular-season games and set a franchise record with 27 wins as a rookie. However, after a couple of losses in Games 3 and 4 of the Everblades’ opening-round series with Jacksonville, Hellvig was replaced by Callum Booth, who had played in just four games with Florida this season.
Booth had started the 2018-19 campaign with the ECHL’s Reading Royals, later joined the AHL’s Checkers and then was reassigned to the Eveblades by the parent Carolina Hurricanes in early March; both Booth and Hellvig are signed to entry-level deals with the ‘Canes.
After taking over in the Florida net in the series against Jacksonville, Booth went on an amazing run, going 6-0-1 in leading the Everblades into this third-round and never allowing more than two goals in any game in doing so.
Garteig and the Growlers bettered Booth and the Everblades 2-0 in Game 1 a week ago in Estero, Fla., and then followed up with a 5-1 victory in Game 2. Despite giving up four goals in the latter contest (Newfoundland had an empty-netter for a second straight game), Booth still sports a 1.43 GAA and .950 save percentage, both best in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Hellvig is back with Florida after a mid-playoff call-up to the AHL’s Checkers.