Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – It was during a five-assist virtuoso offensive performance in a pair of blowout wins over Portage College last weekend that Andrew Kartusch made it well known that he's arrived for the MacEwan Griffins men's hockey team.
Teammates and coaches have known for much longer the immense two-way value the rookie defencemen is providing in his first Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference season.
"He's a guy that keeps getting better every week," Griffins head coach Michael Ringrose said of Kartusch, who has two goals and 12 points in 15 games so far this season. "If you look at how his role has grown from the start of the season to where we are now, he came in as a first-year guy and has continued to earn more opportunity.
"Now he's playing the point on one of our power-play units and is relied upon heavily in the defensive zone. He's contributing on the offensive side as well. We're really happy to see the progression he's made as a player this year."
Paired with fellow rookie Cameron Reagan, Kartusch has quickly become acclimated to a league that features more physically mature players than he faced in junior.
"It's quite a bit different," said Kartusch, who was the captain of the Alberta Junior Hockey League's Drumheller Dragons in his final junior season in 2017-18 when he had 42 points in 57 games. "There's not 16 and 17-year olds in the ACAC, there's a lot of bigger guys that are physically a lot stronger than those guys in junior, but I feel like I fit in well and it's going well so far."
That could be because of his style – he doesn't shy away from contact, preferring to inflict a little of his own.
"I like to consider myself a defensive guy who can lay the body and when the time comes I can put up points on the power play and show my offensive ability," he said. "I feel like I've done that this year quite well."
Being one of several former captains on the Griffins roster certainly helps, too. Kartusch is already a leader for a team full of them.
"He's just such a great person to be around," said Ringrose. "His teammates love him. He's always smiling, loves spending time at the rink. He just has this infectious positive personality.
"I can see why he was a leader," he continued. "To his teammates, he's the nicest guy in the room. Then to the opposition, he's one of the hardest guys to play against, in my mind, in the entire ACAC. I couldn't be happier with what he's giving us to start the year."
Kartusch comes by hockey honestly growing up in Red Deer as the grandson of longtime Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League president Wayne Kartusch. He had the opportunity to play in the SJHL, receiving an offer from the Kindersley Klippers, but he took the advice of one of his coaches and chose Drumheller instead.
When it came time to choose a university, he had other suitors, but felt MacEwan was a great fit.
"I heard lots of great things about coach Ringrose," he said. "I heard he was a great coach. I also kind of wanted to get out of Red Deer – I've been there my whole life. Experiencing Edmonton myself, it's been nothing but great. I've enjoyed it a lot."
The Griffins have been pleased to add him to a defensive group that already includes ACAC veterans Tyler Morrison, Stefan Danielson, Austin Yaremchuk, Taylor Bilyk, Matt Waseylenko and Brett Magee and the Griffins have the depth required to compete against the ACAC's best.
"It's very deep and it's competitive for minutes," said Ringrose, who's also added former Red Deer Rebels blueliner Austin Shmoorkoff to the mix in the second semester. "That pushes us to be better in practice. I've been really happy with our entire group on the back end.
"We definitely went through some injuries towards the end of the first half. To a man, that group back there has done an exceptional job at both ends of the rink. So, I think that collectively this year we've done a really good job moving pucks. Our transition has improved, our ability to break pressure has improved. Offensively, our end zone play has improved when I reflect on where we were at last year. I've been happy with the group of them."
Kartusch will lead the Griffins (13-4-1-0) into action this weekend against a team hot on their trail for top spot in the ACAC – the 13-5-0-0 SAIT Trojans. After opening the second semester with back-to-back weekends against Briercrest and Portage – two teams with a combined record of 5-28-2-0 – the challenge grows immensely when MacEwan travels to Calgary to meet SAIT on Friday (7 p.m., SAIT Arena) and then hosts the Trojans on Saturday (6 p.m., Downtown Community Arena).
"It's obviously a huge test," said Ringrose. "SAIT is an elite hockey team in the ACAC. Last year they were pretty young, but if you look at their roster this year, they've got a bunch of impact forwards who are big and strong and skilled but now have a year of experience under their belt. The results are speaking for themselves.
"They're pushing to the top of the league and they're a force to be reckoned with week in and week out."