Gophers Hockey Fantastic Four: Goaltender Owen Bartoszkiewicz – The Rink Live

MINNEAPOLIS — Sounds like something you’d hear from a bad scammer trying to get your credit card number over the phone, or as a consolation prize on a low-rent game show.

“You are qualified for an all-expenses-paid trip. To the twin cities. In January.”

About this series

In a four-part preview of the Minnesota Gophers’ 2022-23 hockey season, The Rink Live’s Jess Myers explores goaltender (Owen Bartoszkiewicz), captain (Brock Faber), rookie (Logan Cooley) and the program legend (Thomas Vaneck).

But when Owen Bartoszkiewicz got a phone call from a Minnesota Gophers assistant coach on a Sunday last winter, what was happening was very, very real. After a sweep at Michigan State, the team’s star goalie, Jack LaFontaine, was forced to sign a pro contract, on the spot, and the Gophers needed a puck blocker to back up alleged starter Justen Close.

Bartoszkiewicz, who had signed with the Gophers less than a year earlier and had logged a dozen games in a backup role for Youngstown in the USHL, didn’t hesitate. That Sunday afternoon, his family discovered that the keeper was heading west when the wheels were already in motion, literally.

“He called us and said, ‘Minnesota called. I have my car packed and I’m already driving,” said Owen’s father, Todd, who is a software engineer and lives in suburban Detroit. “He didn’t wait for us.

While goaltenders — even the most active ones — spend most of their time on the ice in a confined space, in the crease or a few feet away from it at most, Bartoszkiewicz demonstrated that for improvement of his career, he will go wherever the opportunity presents itself, whether it be in Michigan, Texas, Ohio or now Minnesota.

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Todd Bartoszkiewicz, who played goalie as a high school student in St. Louis, put his toddler son Owen in a goalie glove for one of his first baby photos in 2003.

Contribution / Bartoszkiewicz family photo

Todd Bartoszkiewicz played goalie with other sports while growing up in St. Louis, and went to St. Cloud State as a swimmer in the late 1990s. On a few occasions when the Huskies from Craig Dahl needed a practice goaltender, he even put on the pads and stopped the pucks of Matt Cullen, Dave Paradise and Mark Parrish at the National Hockey Center auxiliary rink. Todd then attended the U of M for a few years before moving to Michigan, originally to work for Ford Motor Company.

Thanks to his father’s time in Minnesota, Owen was the odd kid among his childhood friends who often wore a hoodie with a brown and gold M rather than the Spartans or Wolverines colors. Owen played all sports as a child in Northville, Michigan, but fell in love with hockey, and specifically goaltending, in large part by attending Todd’s men’s league games.

“I always went to see my dad play, and he always had so much fun playing that I think I kind of felt it,” Owen said.

Playing AAA hockey at age 15 in Michigan, Owen began winning games as he grew older, and in an area where major junior hockey is a much more influential part of the sports scene, started dreaming of a fast track to joining his hockey hero, Marc-André Fleury, in the NHL. When none of the major junior teams that had shown interest in Bartoszkiewicz drafted him, he changed on the fly and looked for a new place to play with his eye on college hockey.

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In his only NAHL season with the Wichita Falls Warriors, 2020-21, Owen Bartoszkiewicz won 23 games in goal and garnered enough attention from scouts to devote himself to the University. of Minnesota.

Contribution / Bartoszkiewicz family photo

He found it in the form of an NAHL expansion team in North Texas, just 1,100 miles from his home. With the Wichita Falls Warriors, Bartoszkiewicz thrived on the ice in terms of numbers and wins, and scouts took notice. A month before he announced his commitment to the Gophers, The Hockey News published an article about Bartoszkiewicz titled ”

Meet the goalie every scout needs to see

.” Off the ice and in the locker room, he learned a lesson from the Warriors coach that would be applied a year later, that winter Sunday the Gophers came calling.

“My coach at the time, Garrett Roth, told us, ‘It’s not about you, it’s about what you leave on the table for the next one,'” Owen recalled. “It kind of stuck with me during the hiring process and coming to (Minnesota) in January, it was like I’m saying no, what are these guys going to think of me when I show up. in autumn?”

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After watching his father stop pucks in men’s league games as a child, Owen Bartoszkiewicz became a goaltender himself and had his first success on the ice with the Oakland (Michigan) Jr. Grizzlies 15U AAA team. during the 2014-15 season.

Contribution / Bartoszkiewicz family photo

Late addition to lineup

So on a cold Friday night, with a team from Alaska in town to face the Gophers, a lineal chart was passed out with a third goaltender on the roster with a 14-letter last name (pronounced “Bart- a-skay-vich”). Owen warmed up wearing white pads with bright orange trim, from his Ohio junior team, then sat on the bench and spent three months watching Close support a Big Ten title and Frozen trip Oven.

Gophers coach Bob Motzko hinted that Bartoszkiewicz could start at some point last season, but Close kept winning and never offered a reason to start a goalie rotation. The silver lining, along with the conference title and the trip to Boston to skate on ESPN, is that Bartoszkiewicz starts as a rookie, in terms of eligibility, this fall, even with six months of college classes and hockey practices. university on his curriculum vitae.

“I can skip freshman stuff and I’m not stuck in the classroom all summer,” said Bartoszkiewicz, who shares an apartment with teammates Rhett Pitlick and Ryan Johnson. “It’s nice living with older guys and not staying in the dorms.”

It seems good. He’s made a lot of key saves for us in the games I’ve played and he looks very athletic. He’s obviously a bigger goalkeeper and I think he could be very good on the road.

– Da Beauty League Teammate Nick Leddy

Instead, the summer was spent mostly on the ice, sometimes three or more hours a day between open hockey with fellow Gophers, training at a hockey camp, and skating in half a dozen games. of the Da Beauty League in Edina. On a Wednesday night in early August, Bartoszkiewicz faced former Gophers guard Jared Moe, now at Wisconsin, in a DBL match. Notoriously not a goalkeeper friendly place. Defense is optional, backchecking is non-existent, and guys in the crease are regularly outnumbered. Bartoszkiewicz loved it, dueling a future on-ice rival for a 10-6 win.

“They’re having fun and having fun, so I don’t get too crazy or anything,” he said after the game, of his defenders’ general lack of assist. “I like backdoor games and I like to test myself so that I don’t mind. I’m a bit anxious sometimes, but it’s fine.

One of those DBL defenders, former Gopher and current St. Louis Blues guard Nick Leddy, liked what he saw of the lanky kid who swapped the orange pads for a brown set and bright gold.

“He looks good. He’s made a lot of key saves for us in the games I’ve played and he looks very athletic,” Leddy said. he could be very good on the road.

Waiting for that first shot

When forwards and defensemen think of goaltenders, the easily explained task is to stop the puck. The biggest problem is trust. Players want to know that nine times out of 10, or better, the keeper has their backs. This level of confidence leads to freer, riskier hockey, knowing that the goaltender will be there for a bailout if mistakes and turnovers occur.

Close has clearly earned the trust of the Gophers, helping the program reach the Frozen Four for the first time since 2014 last season. While Bartoszkiewicz has yet to face “live ammo” in a college game, he is clearly part of the team’s big picture for the upcoming season and has earned a modicum of trust among his teammates with his commitment to the team from last January, and that hard work off season. Bartoszkiewicz joked that his biggest enemy on the ice was dehydration at the end of that third hour of puck stoppage on a given summer weeknight.

“Every day last season he came to practice and worked hard, and this offseason he worked hard in the gym and on the ice, skating all the time, so we’re thrilled to have him,” said the Gophers defenseman. Matt Staudcher. The only other Michigan native on the team, Staudacher joked that adding Bartoszkiewicz to the locker room was huge, as they are the only Detroit Lions fans on the roster.

Motzko reiterated that he’s not making his resume this summer and won’t name a starting goaltender until Oct. 1, when Lindenwood travels to Minneapolis for the season opener. But while Close is clearly number one with his hard work and success last season, Bartoszkiewicz looks like his first college start can’t be far off either. For his part, Bartoszkiewicz said his main rival for playing time, Close, has been a welcoming friend since the Michigander showed up in the locker room eight months ago.

“I look up to him, almost like an older brother,” Bartoszkiewicz said of Close, who will be a senior. “He’s been very close to me and helped me a lot. There’s a bit of competition, but we both recognize each other as good goalkeepers, so I don’t think we really worry about anything. it would be.

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Minnesota Gophers goaltender Owen Bartoszkiewicz slid from post to post to stop a backdoor entry attempt during a Da Beauty League game in August 2022 at Braemar Arena in Edina , Minnesota.

Tom Morris / TeMo Photo

The Gophers fanbase returned in droves to 3M Arena in Mariucci late last season to see a clinched Big Ten title and playoff battles with Penn State and Michigan. Those crowds stand out in his mind, much like the goosebumps that attacked when Bartoszkiewicz and his team skated on the ice of a packed NHL rink in Boston for the Frozen Four. He can’t wait to get on the ice for real and get what they hope will be a special season underway.

“A lot of guys are knocking on the door just to kick off the season,” he said. “We are really interested to see what we can do, and we all trust each other to do our job. We take advantage of the free time we have, but everyone is ready to go.