Rookie Garand impressing with his maturity

Photo: Hartford Wolf Pack

📝 by Patrick Williams

Winning a gold medal is one thing, but setting up a home is a different type of stress altogether.

Finding a place to live, furnishing it, managing a household budget and more ― it’s an American Hockey League rite of passage for young players. Many of them are living on their own for the first time at age 20 while also trying to establish themselves in a pro setting one step removed from the National Hockey League. Gone are the days of billet families or college campus life.

Two months after helping to take Canada to a gold medal at the World Junior Championship in Edmonton, Hartford Wolf Pack goaltender Dylan Garand has made his way through that off-ice acclimation process. Anyone who has ever had to furnish an apartment from scratch or stock an empty refrigerator in a new city can relate to the experience.

“It’s a little bit stressful,” the 20-year-old Garand acknowledged, “but it’s definitely part of the process of becoming a pro. You finally get your apartment, which is a process. You’ve got to grow up pretty quick.

“Now that I’ve gone through it and learned from it, it’s good to have for the rest of my life.”

That Garand handled that off-ice transition so smoothly did not surprise Wolf Pack head coach Kris Knoblauch.

“Dylan’s a very mature young man,” Knoblauch began, “and I think is so focused that he’ll do everything and won’t take any shortcuts just to make sure that he’s putting himself in the best situation.”

Now that Garand’s off-ice situation has been squared away, he can get back to pursuing a role with the parent New York Rangers eventually. He can look at a list of Wolf Pack goaltending alumni for further inspiration as well.

Hartford has been a goaltending factory for the better part of 25 years, starting with Dan Cloutier between the pipes for their inaugural game in 1997. AHL Hall of Fame member Jean-Francois Labbe took the Wolf Pack to a Calder Cup championship in 2000. The fantastic Jason LaBarberaSteve Valiquette tandem took over later that decade before Rangers 2004 first-round pick Al Montoya assumed the starting job in Hartford. Chad Johnson, Cam Talbot and Alexandar Georgiev put in time with the Wolf Pack before moving on to NHL careers, and more recently, Igor Shesterkin used time in Hartford as a finishing school before going on to star at Madison Square Garden.

Taken in the fourth round of the 2020 NHL Draft by the Rangers, Garand has made 2022 quite memorable. Along with that gold medal, he wrapped up a standout career with Kamloops of the Western Hockey League in style. He was named the Canadian Hockey League Goaltender of the Year, finishing with a 34-9-1 record, a 2.16 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage before backstopping Kamloops to the WHL’s Western Conference finals.

Playing deep into the WHL postseason and the WJC tournament being rescheduled for August meant that Garand had a hectic summer, but he made it worthwhile. Paired with Sebastian Cossa, who is now with the Grand Rapids Griffins, at the World Juniors, Garand won all six of his starts including a 29-save effort in the gold-medal victory over Finland.

“You always hear people say that there’s no better feeling than winning, but you never really know what that feels like until you do it,” Garand said. “That feeling of us winning was unbelievable.”

He also experienced some of the most intense pressure that a young prospect can face outside of the pro game.

“You’re not only on Team Canada, but to be the starting goalie is a ton of pressure. You definitely feel it. It feels like you always have a camera in your face, and you know that there are millions of people watching.”

From there it was off to training camp with the Rangers in Tarrytown, N.Y. Having dealt with that tournament pressure helped. So did a previous trip to camp with the Rangers. This time faces like Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad felt more familiar without a doubt, but that first time in 2020 was an eye-opener for an 18-year-old.

“There are guys on the team with wives and kids and houses,” Garand quipped. “I didn’t have a credit card at that time. [I was] starstruck a little bit.”

Dylan Garand earned his first pro win on Oct. 29 with an overtime decision against Charlotte.

That first training camp made this time with the Rangers in September an easier experience. He competed against players who had gone to the NHL’s Eastern Conference finals only three months earlier and had an opportunity to work alongside Shesterkin and a pair of veterans in Louis Domingue and Jaroslav Halak. He came away knowing that he still had work to do, but that the NHL also seemed much closer now.

A two-game AHL audition with the Wolf Pack in 2020-21 also benefited Garand. He eventually returned to Kamloops that season when the WHL began play, but he first had a chance to experience AHL competition at 18 years old.

“I got to see what the next level was and measure myself up with where I was and where I needed to be,” Garand said. “I think that was a huge part of my development.”

This time in Hartford is the latest step. Knoblauch has a Domingue-Garand tandem and has doled out work evenly. There will be plenty more work as the schedule ramps up, and there is also practice time with Wolf Pack goaltending coach Jeff Malcolm.

“This year getting to work with [Malcolm] full-time and seeing him every day, it’s been great,” Garand said. “Our relationship is definitely growing, and it’s been awesome for me.

“Louis has been awesome too. He’s a bit of a different guy. Pretty funny, and so he’s been helping me, giving me little tidbits here and there. I really respect him. He’s 10 years older than me, and he’s had a couple stints in the NHL, so he’s a great guy to learn from.”

The Wolf Pack battled a slow start, but they are coming off a big weekend on home ice. On Saturday, Garand recorded his first pro victory with 24 saves in a 3-2 overtime decision against the Charlotte Checkers.

“Dylan has impressed everyone with his work ethic, his professionalism,” Knoblauch said following the win against Charlotte. “He’s very talented, and he’s not satisfied. Sometimes you play behind a goalie as experienced as Louis Domingue and you just accept that you’re the backup and will get your starts when you get them, but he’s really driven and wants to play his best each time.

“He’s very motivated, very driven, and wants to make the most out of his time here.”