One of the true diamonds in the rough of the 2008 draft class is Marquette Wisconsin's Gavin Hartzog. A burly forward that was ranked 115th overall in McKeen's final rankings, Hartzog won the Most Valuable Player award at this years' Chicago Showcase while helping Team Wisconsin win the championship with seven goals and eight points in six games. McKeens' caught up with Hartzog just before the draft to collect the thoughts on his whirlwind season.
McKeen's: First off, how and when did you become involved in competitive hockey?
Hartzog: I began playing competitive hockey at the mini-mite level when I was 4 years old. From there I skipped a year of squirts and jumped AAA hockey from second year squirts to bantams at Wisconsin AAA.
McKeen's: How would you describe your game? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Hartzog: I would describe myself as a power forward. I love driving the net and playing physical. A strong point of my game is my strength and height, which I try to use to my advantage. A weak spot in my game would be my quickness.
McKeen's: Do you model your game after a particular player?
Hartzog: Well, I like to think I can play a similar game like Ovechkin (laughs), but in all seriousness I like to play a game similar to Johan Franzen of the Detroit Red Wings. He uses his size to his advantage by scoring off scrums in front of the net and being responsible in the defensive zone.
McKeen's: Was committing to the University of Wisconsin a no-brainer and what are your thoughts on being a Badger in 2010?
Hartzog: It is a dream come true to become a Badger. After visiting the University, it truly was a no-brainer. They have a great coaching staff, superb facilities, rich tradition, and crazy fans. I feel honored to be a part of the program and I can't wait for the experience.
McKeen's: You where drafted by the Fargo Force and are scheduled to play there for the next two-seasons. Is that correct?
Hartzog: Currently I am at the tryout camp in Prior Lake, Minnesota. I hope to have the opportunity to play under a great coach in Dean Blais, who I have heard nothing but the best about.
McKeen's: What are you looking forward to most about the new challenge and what do you hope to accomplish with your time in Fargo?
Hartzog: I hope to get faster and stronger and more experience so that when it is time to play for the Badgers I can contribute right away. I think it will be a great experience where I can truly focus mainly on developing as a player and a young man.
McKeen's: The poor level of competition you faced for most of the season in Wisconsin High School is a dark cloud lingering over your draft status, yet you elevated your game against a higher level of competition and played great at the Chicago Showcase. How do you explain your dominant performance there and your ability to actually play your best hockey against stiffer competition?
Hartzog: Well, I have to give a lot of credit to my teammates, particularly my linemates, who I had great chemistry with. I think, for me personally, I think it is easier to play well when playing against quality players. When I was playing down in Chicago, I trusted my linemates and defensemen, which helped me focus more on my own game. At the high school level, I did not have that convenience. At the showcase, I was able to play my game without having to worry about someone else's role.
McKeen's: Your goal scoring capabilities really came on full display at the Chicago Showcase. Is that an aspect of your game you pride yourself on and hope to carry forward with you at higher levels?
Hartzog: I think every level of hockey is different. I hope that I can continue my goal-scoring success at higher levels of hockey; however, I realize there may be an adjustment period. I plan on continuing to get better as a player so I can continue to score goals. I think my goal scoring is a testament of hard work. Down in Chicago, I really worked hard at driving the net and getting rebounds. So either way, as I step up to the next level, I plan on working hard.
McKeen's: It must have been a whirlwind season for you. Was there a particular moment or part of your playing career where it really sunk in that you may have a future in this game at the NHL level?
Hartzog: To be perfectly honest, I was not even sure if I was going to make the Showcase team (laughs). After the Showcase, I hoped I might play juniors and maybe college hockey. To think I may have the opportunity to play in the NHL I don't think it will ever sink in (laughs). One thing I have learned is to never take anything for granted and never to rest on your laurels, so right now I am taking it one step at a time.
McKeen's: Darryl Moore, one of the coaches for your Senior Tournament team raved to McKeen's about your character and said you don't know how good you truly could become yet. Where does that modesty and pleasurable attitude off the ice come from?
Hartzog: I have been blessed to have loving parents that sent me through Catholic schools, which I believe truly shaped the person I have become. At Marquette High School, a Jesuit Catholic college prep school, they really emphasized on building character through community service in a less privileged area, several religious retreats, and a caring faculty. I have also been lucky to have older brothers who love knocking me down a peg or two. Overall, I believe I am very fortunate and lucky to be given the opportunities to play the sport I love.
McKeen's: What are your expectations coming into this years' NHL Entry Draft?
Hartzog: Honestly, ever since I was a kid, before I blew out my candles on my birthday I wished to play in the NHL, so for me to have the chance to be drafted in the NHL would be a dream come true. I'd be on Cloud 9 for a long time (laughs).
McKeen's: Do you have a favorite NHL team?
Hartzog: The Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings! That being said, I'd be honored to be drafted by any team.
McKeen's: What do you have planned for a summer workout regiment?
Hartzog: I have a very busy summer planned already. I have scheduled to workout four times a week at "NX Level", a top of the line sports training facility. I also plan on going a few times a week to "BE Fitness" to use their hockey treadmill. As far as on ice goes, I am going to be working one on one with Eric Fenton, the coach of the Chicago Show Case Team Wisconsin, throughout the summer. He is a very experienced and knowledgeable coach who I believe can teach me a lot about the game. I also plan on working with Guy Gosselin on ice.