It was a roller-coaster season for Vermont Lumberjacks goalie Garrett Nieto.
By Steve Stein
He began the season with the Wenatchee Wild of the British Columbia Hockey League. A concussion sidelined him there, and he moved on to the Springfield Jr. Blues of the North American Hockey League.
Nieto was cut by the Jr. Blues, but Lumberjacks coach Doc DelCastillo asked Nieto to join his Eastern Hockey League Premier Division team.
So the 6-foot-3-inch, 220-pound netminder from Yorba Linda, Calif., was off in mid-February to Vermont.
It turned out to be a good move. Nieto impressed DelCastillo.
“Garrett is a big, athletic kid. He has a good future as a goaltender,” DelCastillo said.
That future includes a spot on the Lake Superior State University hockey team. Nieto, who has two years of junior hockey eligibility remaining, made a verbal commitment to the NCAA Division 1 program in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., in April 2016.
“I love Lake Superior State. It’s a great fit for me,” Nieto said.
Nieto played in five regular season games for the Lumberjacks. He was 1-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average and .934 save percentage.
Given an opportunity to be the Lumberjacks’ No. 1 goalie for the playoffs, he came through with flying colors even though Vermont lost 2-1 to the host Boston Jr. Rangers in a best-of-three first-round series.
Nieto had a 2.94 goals-against average and .932 save percentage in the postseason.
“I was very happy with how I played in the playoffs, especially because I’d never played three games in three days,” he said. “I thought I gave our team a chance to win each game.”
Ice packs on his knees and hips, ice baths and lots of stretching kept Nieto physically strong for the tough stretch.
“Garrett took the bull by the horns in the playoffs and ran with it,” DelCastillo said.
Nieto said he doesn’t know if he’ll return to the Lumberjacks next season. A lot depends upon if Lake Superior State wants to bring him in.
“I’m keeping my options open,” he said. “I do appreciate the opportunity the Lumberjacks gave me this season. At the time they picked me up, I was looking at staying home and getting ready for next season.
“The Lumberjacks took a chance on me, and I think it worked out well for both of us. It was my toughest season. [It was difficult] being hurt, cut and changing teams twice.”
DelCastillo said there’s a possibility Nieto will return to Vermont next season, “but I know he’ll have other options.”
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