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Penguins 'best fit' for former Quinnipiac star goalie Eric Hartzell

| Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 11:42 p.m.

A whirlwind weekend saw Eric Hartzell lead Quinnipiac to the NCAA national championship game, finish as a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award and be named a first-team All-American.

It would have been a perfect ending to his college career, if only the Bobcats had beaten Yale for the NCAA title Saturday night at Consol Energy Center.

That didn't stop Hartzell from celebrating Sunday, when he signed a one-year, entry-level contract for $925,000 with the Penguins.

“Pittsburgh turned out to be the best fit. It's not only the best fit but the greatest organization in hockey,” said Hartzell, 23, of White Bear Lake, Minn. “I'm excited to be a part of that. You've got a bunch of great people on the staff. I see a great opportunity. Pittsburgh didn't guarantee me a thing, but they were very straightforward.

“Everything about Pittsburgh is amazing. The hospitality they showed all the teams at the Frozen Four was just unbelievable. That's an awesome thing for Pittsburgh. Consol is probably the best rink I've seen in my life, the best in the NHL. I fell in love with it.”

The 6-foot-4, 187-pound goaltender was 30-7-5, with a 1.57 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage with five shutouts in 42 starts this season, leading the NCAA in minutes and earning ECAC Player of the Year and Ken Dryden Goaltender of the Year honors.

“Eric was our best player,” Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said after the Bobcats lost to Yale, 4-0, in the NCAA final. “I think he was the best player in college hockey. I thought he was the most dominant player in college hockey, for what he did for us in taking Quinnipiac to the championship game.”

Penguins general manager Ray Shero said Hartzell was the only college goaltender the club pursued, dating back to a February meeting with him at Quinnipiac.

“This is a culmination of an entire year of watching him and evaluating him. We were more than happy to sign him,” Shero said. “He's got great size, obviously. He's got God-given size, nothing you can teach. He's improved his game every year. He certainly battles. You saw that in the championship game. He was the go-to guy for his team the entire year. He played every game. He's a guy we hope is getting better.”

Shero said the Penguins have “no plans” to play Hartzell in goal this season, and because he was signed after the NHL trade deadline he isn't eligible for the Stanley Cup playoffs or to play for their Scranton/Wilkes-Barre affiliate in the AHL playoffs. Instead, Hartzell will have a chance to spend time around the team, much like goalie Brad Theissen did in 2009, when the Penguins won the Cup.

“He's going to be the third goalie, soak things up and be around the team,” Shero said. “Having Eric here will be good for his development.”

Hartzell, who is still finishing the final 15 credits toward his marketing degree at Quinnipiac, is expected to join the Penguins on Wednesday and is looking forward to watching and learning from his new teammates.

“I can be a little shy at first. I'm sure I'll be shy in Pittsburgh, around guys like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin; being in the room with those guys is going to be incredible — I'm just excited to work for them,” Hartzell said. “Whatever I'm asked to do, I'll do that, plus more.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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