Limestone's Gartelman Braced for Foxborough
|He might have the funkiest knee brace in Foxborough this weekend, but Limestone will gladly endure the smell if Gartelman can lead the Saints to their third NCAA Division II national title.|
As he unloaded shots on Steve Gartelman at practice before last Saturday's semifinal against Le Moyne, one of the Limestone assistant coaches made an inquiry about the senior goalie's knee brace. The coach said that he inadvertently touched the brace, which adorns Gartelman's left knee, a couple of days prior and there was a smell that he couldn't wash off his hands.
"That will stay with you for a couple of weeks," said Gartelman with a laugh as he stoned another shot.
As it turns out, the keeper's knee brace is kind of a talisman for the Saints.
"I was thinking about washing it one time, but that was the week after one of my best performances," Gartelman said. "Why try and wash it? I don't mind the smell too bad and the defense has gotten used to it, but you can smell it from a distance. I guess the attack doesn't like it too much, so it's working a little bit."
"He's not the cleanest player we have," deadpanned Limestone head coach J.B. Clarke. "Hygiene is not his forte."
The funk emanating from the brace may scare off a cutting attackman or two, but it's not a required piece of equipment for Gartelman's well-being. Although he tore his ACL for the first time just prior to transferring from St. John's to Limestone in 2009 and then again days before the beginning of the 2011 season, he has been cleared by the training staff to play without it.
In fact, the type of brace Gartelman wears provides more peace of mind than actual protection.
"Evidently, those braces only help you if you hyper-extended the knee to tear the ACL," said Clarke. "If it's a twist to tear the ACL, they don't do anything. You can't stop the knee from twisting. Steve's was a twist. It's a safety net."
"I feel great and my leg feels fine, but it's just so I don't have to go through anything like that again," said Gartelman, a Seaford, N.Y., native. "I've had two knee surgeries already and I don't want to do it again."
The fact that he was able to start every game last season with a torn ACL and post a 6.57 goals against average, a 56.9 save percentage and a 15-2 record, is proof that Gartelman knows his role within the overall Limestone system.
"He knows he doesn't have to put his team on his shoulders for us to win," Clarke said. "He knows he doesn't need to get 15 saves for us to win, he just needs to get eight or 10. He goes through it and he makes the saves he should."
It wasn't always easy, however.
"Last year playing injured, I felt like my steps were off a little bit," said Gartelman, who considers himself a very technical goalie. "But just tweaking my arc and tweaking my playing style, we still had a successful year. This year I just have more confidence going either way and making true reactions to the ball."
Although he has bested his numbers from last year – a 6.12 GAA along with a 60.1 save percentage – Gartelman said he felt he wasn't all the way back from the injury until April 7 when he made a career-high 17 saves in the Saints' 15-5 victory over Mars Hill. Coincidentally, that was just prior to the last time that he contemplated washing his knee brace.
Any possibility that Gartelman would give his brace a wash evaporated last Saturday when he made 11 saves against Le Moyne in the national semifinals, propelling the Saints to the championship game with Dowling on Sunday with a 10-8 victory.
All off his teammates stormed Gartelman when the final whistle blew, even with the repellent odor wafting up from his left knee. They were more than willing to suffer the stench because at that point it smelled good.
It smelled like victory.