Mike Green: Grubauer's play inspires confidence
When Philipp Grubauer was a young goalie growing up in Rosenheim, Germany, his father had video tapes of Don Cherry mailed to their home.
“That’s all we had in Germany,” Grubauer said with a laugh. “We couldn’t watch [NHL] games, so we had Don Cherry videos on one of those tapes they don’t make anymore.”
They’re called VHS and yes, Philipp, they are a thing of the past. The memories Grubauer has of those tapes, however, are still very fresh in his mind.
“I would jump on the bed and try to copy the saves of Felix Potvin and Mike Richter,” Grubauer recalled. “I’d say, ‘I want to play there, too.’”
Today, at the age of 22, Grubauer is fulfilling that wish, much sooner than he or anyone else anticipated.
Recalled by the Capitals on Nov. 30 after Michal Neuvirth injured his ankle stepping on a puck during pregame warmups, Grubauer could make his seventh start in 10 games on Sunday when the Caps visit the Buffalo Sabres [5 p.m., CSN].
In eight appearances this season, two in relief of Braden Holtby, Grubauer is 5-1-1 with a 2.18 GAA and .937 save percentage.
“He plays with confidence,” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. “When you have confidence you can do whatever you want out there. It’s nice.”
Taken by the Caps in the fourth round [112th overall] of the 2010 NHL draft, Grubauer has played in North America since the time he was 16, when he left Rosenheim to play for the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League.
Grubauer played for three different teams in the OHL, winning the Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires in his draft year. He began his pro career with the Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL in 2011 and started last season with the Reading Royals of the ECHL. After going 19-5-1 in his first 26 games Grubauer was promoted to the Hershey Bears, where he went 15-9-2 in 28 appearances.
Grubauer began this season as the Bears’ No. 1 goalie and was 4-4-1 with a 2.43 GAA when the Caps recalled him for what they thought would be a week or two.
But when Grubauer went 4-0-1 in his first five decisions with the Caps, head coach Adam Oates had little choice but to keep playing him.
“It allows the other goalies to reset a little bit,” Oates said. “He’s playing good and good for him. It’s a long season He’s only played eight games. We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves.”
Grubauer described Rosenheim as a small town of about 60,000 residents, calling it the biggest hockey town in southern Germany. He said he attended hockey games with his mother and began skating at the age of 3. By 5 he was playing as a forward and a defenseman.
It wasn’t until he turned 14 or 15 that Grubauer played goaltender full-time, mimicking his game after Martin Brodeur and Olie Kolzig.
“Not many guys in that town continued or made it to the NHL,” Grubauer said. “I’m pretty proud of what I’ve done so far, representing my home town and my country.”
Grubauer said he’s enjoyed spending time with Kolzig, whose parents are from Germany, allowing him to represent Germany in the 2006 Winter Olympics.
“We don’t speak too much German,” Grubauer said, “but he has so much experience and that helps us because he knows the game.”
Kolzig has been impressed with the composure of Grubauer, who describes himself as focused, but “pretty laid back.” Grubauer seems to understand that with Holtby itching to return to the lineup and Neuvirth healthy, his time with the Caps may not last more than another week or two.
“It all depends on whether you win or lose,” he said. “If I would have lost five games in a row I wouldn’t be here. You have to focus on the next shot and the next practice and the next game and not look any further.
“I’m just looking toward the game in Buffalo. I can’t change anything. The fact we have three goalies, I’m not too worried about it. I just try to practice good and play good and get the guys a win. That’s all that matters to me.”
Grubauer said his parents visited him in Hershey last month but have yet to see him play an NHL game in person. His girlfriend, a student attending college in Germany, arrived in Washington on Saturday and she is hoping to see him play as well, perhaps on Thursday when the Carolina Hurricanes pay a visit to Verizon Center.
“Right now, it’s just game to game,” Grubauer said. “Right now it’s the next game in Buffalo and then Ottawa.”