Traveling to Orlando, Fla. isn’t an unusual experience for an ECHL player. But for Garrett Haar, the trip to Amway Center for his first All-Star Classic was anything but a normal game.
Jan. 21’s tilt of the ECHL All-Stars against the Orlando Solar Bears was the first all-star game at any level for the South Carolina Stingrays defenseman. An opportunity he was able to have after being voted in by coaches of other ECHL teams, according to Haar.
“It’s obviously an honor because there’s plenty of guys on our team that could have been chosen, but luckily I got chosen,” Haar said. “It is nice because obviously I must be doing something right if other coaches are voting for me, so I was really honored.”
As with any other all-star game, there were no major hits, no hard shot-blocking and, in general, a much more leisurely style of play. So as a defenseman, and the Stingrays’ lone representative, Haar’s only appearance on the score sheet were his one shot and plus-2 in the All-Stars’ 8-4 win over the Solar Bears.
“Being a defenseman in the game … we don’t get to do our daily job,” Haar said. “We don’t get to defend, really, as hard as we’d like to, but … you also get to join the play and jump in the rush, so that’s mainly what was going on for all five players on the ice.”
However, for Haar, “just being on the ice with the other guys, having a good time and just playing some hockey” helped make the game an experience to revel in.
“There was one time during the hardest shot (competition) and I was on one knee and I just looked around and I just felt really blessed in the moment,” he said. “I was just trying to take it all in and it was a lot of fun.”
As the final horn sounded, the game’s MVP was announced and the fans left the stands, it was time for the all-stars to pack up and head back to their respective clubs.
For Haar, that meant making the roughly 380-mile trek back up the Charleston, S.C. The Southern state is a stark contrast to the places the Huntington Beach, Calif. native has previously played in – Kansas, North Dakota, Michigan and Portland, Ore. – but it’s a place he’s learned to love.
“Living in South Carolina, we’re really close to the beach, it’s relatively nice every day, it’s a beautiful area; I love the palm trees because it reminds me of home,” he said. “I’ve never lived in South Carolina before, and it’s a little diamond, not even in the rough, I just didn’t know about South Carolina or Charleston. Now that I’ve gotten to experience living here, it’s a lot of fun here and the city is beautiful and I’m actually very lucky to be living here.”
Upon returning to the Lowcountry, Haar will also return to working toward his season goals, which aside from helping the Stingrays get to the postseason, includes improving his defensive game.
“Obviously when you go from juniors to pro, everyone is a lot bigger, stronger faster. I really had to focus on my defending, because if I’m ever going to make it to the next level, that’s ultimately what’s going to get me there,” Haar said. “So I’ve focused on that and also just making quicker plays because there’s always a guy that’s right in your back pocket coming to pick the puck, so I’ve had to focus on getting rid of the pucks faster and making quicker decisions.”
One aspect of his game that doesn’t need as much work is Haar’s offensive effort. With the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL last season, Haar posted a career-high 0.74 points per game average, notching seven goals and 38 assists in 61 games. This season, Haar leads all Stingrays defensemen with 15 points off three goals and 12 assists in 27 games. But it’s his minus-5 plus/minus rating that has him looking for growth as the season progresses.
“I’ve had some ups and downs (this season),” Haar said. “I’ve obviously made some rookie mistakes on the ice, but that’s just going to come with learning every day.”
Through all the hard work, there are still plenty of fond memories made throughout the season. But Haar’s favorite so far isn’t necessarily the one you’d guess first.
“Actually the teddy bear game was pretty cool,” he said, referring to the Teddy Bear Toss for the Salvation Army, held Dec. 13. “There were a lot of people there and there were actually a lot of teddy bears that fell on the ice. We’ve had a lot of fun things go on this season, but if I had to pick one, the teddy bear game was pretty neat.”
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