CHARLESTON, S.C. — Up 2-1 in the waning minutes of the game Friday, the Greenville Road Warriors rushed up the ice on a two-on-one break, eager to put the game out of reach in North Charleston Coliseum. The crossing pass landed perfectly, the one-timer launched toward the open net, but Philipp Grubauer’s reaching glove save kept the Stingrays in the game and brought the crowd to its feet.
“Save of the year!” broadcaster Joseph Zakrzewski yelled from the press booth.
It's no wonder Grubauer was wearing the Stingrays’ Golden Goalie jersey, awarded to the fan-voted goaltender for one game in lieu of an East Coast Hockey League all-star game this year. But for Grubauer, the ECHL's goaltender of the month for November and rookie of the month for January, it was business as usual.
With a 2.22 goals against average through 43 games, third best in the ECHL, it's not uncommon to hear talk in Hershey and Washington that the German-born 20-year-old would already be the starter in Hershey if it weren't for Braden Holtby, who himself has made statements that he's ready for the next level. An expected promotion to the American Hockey League next season would put Grubauer in good company, as Holtby and Michal Neuvirth also donned Stingrays jerseys.
“There are a couple guys saying I should be playing in the AHL, but I'm down here and try my best... and battle through every game and be happy to be down here,” Grubauer said. “I enjoy South Carolina and I try to work my way up and show those guys up there, hey, there's another guy down there who can play.”
In the meantime, Grubauer keeps an eye on things in both Washington and Hershey.
“I try to watch the games,” he said. “I can't watch it on TV sometimes if they're on, but I'm on the NHL website and reading scores to see how the game goes.”
Last week, when Tomas Vokoun sat out for a game, Holtby came to Washington to back up Neuvirth, while Grubauer made a trip to Hershey. Though he has yet to play for the Bears, the trip still meant something for Grubauer. “I was up there for a game last Sunday and every time you come down, it's a confidence boost for me if I come down from the AHL,” he said.
The 2010 fourth-round draft pick has worked with associate goaltending coach and Capitals legend Olie Kolzig, who is also of German heritage.
“I talk to him; he was down here a couple weeks ago,” Grubauer said. “He practiced with me and watched a couple videos… and helped me a lot. It helps a lot if he is down here and sees things I can't see without our goalie coach here and improve my game.”
When asked if they speak German together, Grubauer smiled. “He knows a couple words, but we mostly speak English.”
“Other teams covet our goaltending,” Kolzig told reporters back in February, speaking of Vokoun, Neuvirth and Holtby. “I even consider Philipp Grubauer down in South Carolina one of those guys, so we’ve got four guys that can all play.”
Grubauer, though, said he is focusing on his current job for now.
“I appreciate if guys are saying that I'm number four or whatever, but I want to be a starter in the NHL sometimes and only can get it through hard work,” Grubauer said. “I try to get prepared, and maybe next day you get called up — you never know."
Ben Sumner works in The Post’s IT department and writes for Capitals Outsider.
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