New Belfast Giants goaltender up to the task
If there is pressure on Belfast Giants newboy Garrett Zemlak then it doesn’t show.
The 23-year-old goaltender has been thrust into the Elite League title challenge after answering an SOS call from Giants coach Doug Christiansen.
Replacing injury victim Stephen Murphy was a daunting task for Christiansen. The Great Britain goaltender is regarded by many as the best goaltender in the Elite League and his performances were one of the big reasons behind the Giants winning the Elite League last season.
Yet even though the heat may be on as the fight to keep the title at the Odyssey Arena intensifies, the Giants have the advantage of having one of the coolest customers around defending their goal.
Zemlak’s laidback approach helped him shut out the Fife Flyers on his debut last week and on Sunday night, with the Giants only able to score one goal against Coventry Blaze, he put the shutters up again to ensure that Greg Stewart’s strike was enough to scoop the two points and stay two points behind the Panthers.
“I haven’t really thought about the start I have made,” said Zemlak.
“I knew the situation I was getting into, replacing Stephen Murphy and he’s a great goalie.
“The worst thing you can do as a goalie is over-think stuff.
“I came here and knew if I worked hard and trusted the players in front of me — I knew how good a team this is from playing against them.
“I have a lot of confidence in my game, I’ve been aggressive and have trusted my defence to pick up the guys I wasn’t watching.
“I got a lot of credit for my performances last week, but they deserve it as much as me.
“I came in and did well, but it doesn’t mean anything unless I keep it going.”
That’s just the attitude that Christiansen hoped that he was getting when he rushed to bring Zemlak to Belfast.
He wasn’t quite pulled off a flight across the Atlantic, but had Murphy’s injury — which occurred in the home win against Coventry on Saturday January 12 — happened even 24 hours later the Giants would have missed out on Zemlak.
He’d just exercised the clause in his contract with Braehead Clan that allowed him to leave the Glasgow club at 14 days’ notice, but it was the Irish Sea that he crossed instead after a quick decision not to move to the East Coast Hockey League.
“I was about to fly to the States and I had a meeting with an ECHL coach last Wednesday who was going to sign me,” said Zemlak. “It would have been a good spot for me, but I’m not thinking about that anymore.
“I am here now and I don’t care about that anymore because I am here to win.
“It’s awesome to come into this situation in Belfast.
“I was the first one that Doug called to come and take this job and it was a great opportunity.
“It was a surprise to get the call. Just for him to call me was great.
“I was going to leave the next day and I had a decision to make.
“I knew I wanted to come here as soon as I got the call, but it took me about half a day to get it finalised.
“I had to consider a lot of things because it had got to the point where I was pretty excited about going home.
“It would have been good for me, but this chance may not have happened again if I’d gone home.”
Zemlak will quickly renew accquaintances with his former Braehead colleagues at the Odyssey Arena tonight, with a new coach on-board after Paul Gardner replaced Jordan Krestanovich just last week.
“There was a lot of frustration from day one,” said Zemlak.
“It was a great group of guys and the coach was a good guy — I still have a lot of respect for him — but I think he was thrown into a situation that he didn’t want to be in.
“It was nothing like here, there was so much behind the scenes.
“When you are playing with 12 guys for two months and your owner is signing 17 imports for the other team he owns that gets pretty frustrating.”