Zach Garrett’s hockey career has taken several zigs and zags since he left Creighton to chase the sport years ago. That journey paid off earlier this month, with Garrett winning major awards and a national title.
Garrett, who played this season with the University of Mary Marauders in Bismarck, North Dakota, ended the season with no shortage of honours for his play. Garrett was named the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Division II player of the year and made the division’s All-American team, along with two of his teammates. On April 20, Garrett and the Marauders won the ACHA Division II national championship.
It was Garrett’s fifth season of college hockey since wrapping up his junior hockey career. While Garrett spent stints with the Flin Flon Bombers - the same team where he was once the stick boy growing up - he would play most of his junior hockey in Carrot River, Sask., playing junior B with a team then known as the Tri-Town Thunder.
After wrapping his junior career up with Tri-Town, Garrett headed south, joining up with the Dakota College at Bottineau Lumberjacks, a two-year junior college that played in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). In his first year, Garrett won a national NJCAA title, winning the title in bizarre fashion after the championship game was called off early when an opponent jumped off the bench late in the game and cross-checked a referee.
When the NJCAA went kaputt that offseason, Garrett went into the ACHA with the rest of the Jacks. Once the season was over, Garrett was stuck in a bind - having played his full time at the two-year college, Garrett would need to transfer to not only keep his college hockey career going but to continue his studies.
In order to do that, Garrett jumped to UMary, located about a three-hour drive south of Bottineau in Bismarck. Garrett would be joining a hockey program in its first year of existence, with no history or previous prize recruits to draw on.
“I was one of the first guys they had talked to off my team… I listened to them a little bit, but our season was still going on and I’m the type of guy who, when I’m invested in something, I’m focused on that - I’m not looking at something down the road,” Garrett said.
When the season wrapped up, Garrett hit the road and headed south. There were some hiccups with the team’s creation - Garrett remembers the team's first home game, where the school's president, who had never been to a hockey game before, dropped the first puck and then walked off the ice into the penalty box by mistake - where he would end up spending the entire first period, unable to get back to the crowd.
“He was just super pumped to watch the game - and those were the best seats in the house,” Garrett recalled with a chuckle.
Unlike most expansion teams, the Marauders saw immediate success, creating a program out of thin air that would quickly become the ACHA Division II’s top ranked team. They’d even play a special outdoor game in the snow - which they won, Garrett added.
“I transferred to this school three years ago and we were the number-one seed the last three years,” Garrett said.
Since joining the Marauders as part of that initial class, Garrett has worn the captain’s “C” for all three seasons, racking up 169 points in 138 games with the program. This season, Garrett shone, leading the Marauders in points with 56.
That number-one seed didn’t pay off with championship success in the past. In the team’s first year, they were ineligible to play for any titles due to their expansion status. Last season, the team was about to travel to Texas to take part in the national title tournament when COVID-19 put an end to those plans.
“The first year we weren't allowed to go. Then last year, with COVID-19 we were two days away from leaving to Texas on our flight and we got told we can't go,” Garrett said.
This year, the stars aligned for Garrett and the Marauders. This year, the title tournament would be held on the Marauders’ home ice.
“This year we ended up hosting it, so that was kind of like the end goal that I really wanted to do,” Garrett said.
To get there, the Marauders lived up to their team name, marauding through the college ranks and finishing the season with a 38-4-6-1 record. At home, the Marauders went 19-1-2, losing only once at the Schwan Cadillac Rink at Starion Sports Complex. Once again, UMary would end the season ranked number one - only this time, there was a title to play for.
In their pool, UMary beat North Carolina State, rivals University of Providence and Davenport to advance to the tournament. From there, UMary played Liberty University, which ended with a 7-0 Marauders win.
In the final game, with Mary playing the Iowa State Cyclones, the Marauders came in as the likely favourites to win the title, playing on home ice to a packed house.
“It was definitely interesting. It was pretty loud - we haven’t played for a crowd that big for a while, not only not playing but in some places I played in, we didn’t have very many fans,” Garrett said.
A goal in the second period would put the Marauders up 1-0 and, with only moments to go, the Marauders looked to ice the title. With less than a minute to go, Marauder forward Marshall Tschida fired the puck from his own end off the boards and off the ricochet, the puck slid, stumbled and bumbled its way into the empty net. That gave Mary a 2-0 lead and, about 20 seconds of game time later, the ACHA Division II national championship.
“It was awesome. After that… you celebrate pretty hard,” Garrett said.
With five seasons of college hockey in the books, Garrett - a marketing and business administration major - is unsure what his next step is. Due to a special rule for college hockey players affected by the abbreviated season this year, Garrett can technically come back, whichcould make him a possible six-season college player. Whatever comes next is uncertain, but Garrett knows one thing - he wants to keep hockey in his life.
“I’ve done some internships with the athletic department here and I applied to be a graduate assistant. That’s what my title would be, not just a hockey player. I’d love to do marketing for a sport, any sport. I think I might be coming back to Canada and trying to get a job in marketing, hopefully in sports, but I don’t know what’s going to be in the cards,” he said.