Former Liberty Hockey Player Holds His Own on Professional Team
As he jumped over the boards for his first shift as a member of the Norfolk Admirals March 16, defenseman Zane Schartz quelled any nerves brought about by a whirlwind week.
A few days earlier, he finished a season with the Liberty University Flames in which he was the highest scoring defenseman and sixth-leading scorer in the American Collegiate Hockey Association with 23 goals and 59 points in 35 games.
Now in the ECHL, a developmental hockey league two steps below the NHL, Schartz felt confident as he skated for an Admirals team that signed him for the final 10 games of their season.
“I just have peace that whatever happens, it’s in God’s hands,” Schartz said. “I may have been nervous earlier in my life, but it’s just a game and I’ve played it for so many years.”
Over his three years at Liberty, Schartz, 23, played 99 games and learned a lot, including what it means to be a Christian on and off the ice.
“I went to Liberty for that aspect — to grow in my faith and grow as a person,” Schartz said. “I didn’t want to be known as Zane the hockey player, as I had been my whole life. I wanted to be known as Zane the Christian.”
During his time on the Lynchburg campus, through courses like Biblical Worldview, New Testament survey and Evangelism 101, Schartz said he was challenged to mature and think about ways to reach non-Christians.
In the rink, Schartz credits Flames assistant coach Dan Berthiaume, a former NHL goalie who played professional hockey from 1983-2005, for helping him prepare for the jump to higher competition.
“He taught me a lot about what it takes to play at the next level,” Schartz said. “How I’m going to have to be different and train harder and change my game a little bit going from Liberty to the ECHL.”
Along with his own agent, Schartz’s opportunity to sign with the Admirals can be linked to Berthiaume.
As a member of the Greensboro Generals from 2002-2004, Berthiaume played alongside Sam Ftorek, an ECHL hall of famer who came out of retirement to play for the Norfolk Admirals this season.
“(Berthiaume) has a kid that’s about 20 now, and when they played together he was about 5,” Schartz said. “Now the 43-year-old (Ftorek) has a kid that’s about 5…and I just kind of see the paradox or the circle of life. In like 15 years, I’ll be playing with that 5-year-old or something like that.”
With his connections to Norfolk, Berthiaume was able to help secure a tryout for Schartz two days after Liberty was eliminated from Nationals March 10. The Admirals were impressed enough with Schartz to give him a chance to show he belongs in the ECHL.
While the transition has not been too difficult so far, Schartz has had to adjust to the difference in skill between the opponents of Liberty and the players in the ECHL.
“You have to elevate your game all around,” Schartz said. “It’s just the size difference and the speed that they’re coming at you…You’re playing against men as opposed to 18-year-old freshmen.”
Norfolk’s season ended April 7. Schartz hopes that he shows the team enough during his three-week stint on the Admirals for them to re-sign him. If all goes well, Schartz said he could potentially move up to the AHL, or AAA-level of minor league hockey, sometime during the 2018-19 season.
But he wants to take things one step at a time.
“Signing back here is the next step and that’ll probably happen at some point this summer,” Schartz said. “And if it doesn’t, then I’ll have to go back to the drawing board.”
No matter what happens in his professional hockey career, Schartz is planning to finish his final year of college through Liberty’s online program and walk in May 2019’s Commencement.
And if playing professional hockey does not faze him, it is doubtful Schartz will be nervous the day he walks down the aisle to receive his college diploma.