Cochrane Generals goalie Erik Garber has been signed by the Arizona State University Sun Devils and reports to camp in the fall.
He'll be minding nets for their Div. One American Collegiate Hockey Association team in the Western Collegiate Hockey League.
The 21-year old netminder is ecstatic about continuing to play competitive hockey after finishing his junior career with the Cochrane Generals this season.
"I am thankful that I get another four years of competitive hockey," says Garber. "It would have been unfortunate if my whole hockey career had to end because of COVID."
It's also at a university that offers studies in parks and recreation management, a career he is interested in pursuing. Plus, the door remains open to climb to higher levels of competition.
The Kirkland, Washington native came to Canada to enhance his goaltending skills. He played while studying at the Banff Hockey Academy, and appeared in nine games between the pipes for the Banff Bears when they had a team in the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL).
While in the hunt for a junior team, he was recruited by Gens coach Derek Donald, whom he knew when playing minor hockey in Seattle.
He believes becoming a General gave him valuable experience, and helped him with his long-term goal of playing college hockey.
"I gained a bunch of confidence over the years after starting to play in 2017 against guys who were four years older than me. I learned a lot in those years, and I've been one of the leaders on the team for the last two years. It's just been huge to gain all the confidence I can. gain all the games that I can. It definitely helps when you're playing, so I think my experience in Cochrane was unreal."
He also appreciates the assistance provided by Gens goalie coach Matt Greenham.
"He's been awesome. If I'm struggling with something in practice, he'll talk to me, tell me what I'm doing wrong, or just give me some pointers. If I'm in a groove and everything is working out, he doesn't really try to change things. He's always been there for me."
Garber, too, has been skating during the extended shutdown and is being trained by Justin Cardinal, of Evolution Goaltending Consultants.
Gens general manager and head coach Kurtis Jones says Erik gives a consistently strong effort and is definitely a gamer. Two other schools were also pursuing Erik.
"I got a phone call about a month ago from Arizona State University asking a bunch of questions about Erik. Then Erik and I sat down, and he figured it was the best spot for him."
Jones helped prepare video and assisted in any other way possible. He believes developing players and creating the opportunity to play at a higher level is an important role played by the Gens.
"The players can see that we're not just in a league that's the end of the road. They can see that the coaching staff and our organization are there to help guys recruit our players. We help all players get to the next step, that could be junior A, that could be wherever they want to go."
"This is huge for our club. I always say to players, there are so many different avenues to play hockey and college is one of them. My biggest thing is to go to school and get an education. He's going to do it, and I'm happy for him."
Garber's parents made the trip from Washington to watch him play several games over the years. Rick and Hanne were ecstatic about the offer.
"I couldn't have done it without them. They've supported me my whole life and have supported my goal of playing hockey and going to college. I think they were super humbled and super happy about it, as was I."
Garber remains with the Gens until the end of the season. While the HJHL has shut down their regular season, there is the hope of some exhibition play. Jones says their goal is to keep Garber going and get him ice time before he departs.
During his four seasons with the Gens, Garber received several player of the week honours from the HJHL. His first came after only nine starts in his rookie season, the week he turned 18.
Last season, he was named an HJHL all-star alongside side three other Gens and its coaching staff.