BUFFALO – Philipp Grubauer led the Windsor Spitfires to the Memorial Cup, Canada’s national junior trophy, last spring. But keeping Germany in the Top Division seems to be the tougher challenge for the Bavarian.
The 19-year-old is one of Germany’s most promising juniors, together with Tom Kühnhackl (see article). In 2008 he left his hometown Rosenheim, where he was playing in Germany’s top junior league and in the third-tier professional league for the local Starbulls before transferring to Canada.
It’s a decision he hasn’t regretted so far.
“German hockey is doing well, but not many people care about hockey. It’s all about soccer,” he said. “It’s not like in Canada, which is a whole different world when it comes to hockey. But we’re improving.”
Grubauer continued being a Bull in Canada, with Belleville in the Ontario Hockey League, before he was traded to the Windsor Spitfires in the middle of the 2009-10 season.
“In Belleville I was backup in the first season, but had a pretty good year after that, but we were in last place,” Grubauer said. “Then I got the chance to play in Windsor for the championship.”
And that’s exactly what he did. He posted a 90.6 save percentage in the regular season and saved 90.9% of the shots in the playoffs to become OHL champion and advance to the Memorial Cup in Brandon, where the champs from the OHL, QMJHL and WHL together with the host team play it out for national superiority.
Despite sickness, Grubauer played and had a 93.0 save percentage and a 2.14 goal against average when he led the Spitfires to the Memorial Cup win.
Just a few months earlier, he was also the best goalkeeper in the U20 Division I tournament that brought Germany back to the Top Division this year, with a sparkling save percentage of 97.4%.
“I had never won anything before, so it was a great feeling,” Grubauer said about last season.
That summer he was picked by the Washington Capitals in the fourth round of the Entry Draft and signed a three-year deal with the Caps.
“I went to the Washington Capitals’ rookie camp and to the main camp. It was pretty good, and I’m looking forward to next year. I hope to get a shot in the NHL or AHL next year,” said the Bavarian, who now plays for another OHL team, the Kingston Frontenacs.
However, 2010 didn’t end on a positive note for him when facing the top nations with the German U20 national team here in Buffalo.
Grubauer had an 86.8 save percentage in three appearances and was replaced in the games against Switzerland and Finland, with a great performance against Slovakia in between that ended with an overtime loss and the only point Germany has grabbed so far.
“It’s not a huge difference for a goalie to play for the Memorial Cup or at the World U20 Championship,” Grubauer said about the different ambitions of his teams. “We have to win every game and can’t lose focus. You can’t have a bad game as a goalie; otherwise it’s almost impossible to win.”
It will be a tough decision for the coaching staff whether to use Grubauer, who was the starting goalkeeper at the beginning of the tournament, or Niklas Treutle, who replaced him twice and was in the net in the last game against the U.S., once the Relegation Round begins.
The Germans will now move to Dwyer Arena at the Niagara University campus for the Relegation Round. They will likely need two wins to remain in the Top Division and qualify for the 2012 IIHF World U20 Championship in Calgary and Edmonton.
Coach Ernst Höfner’s team will play the Czech Republic on Sunday before facing Norway on Tuesday in their last game.
It will certainly be a huge challenge to stay up. But winning the Memorial Cup, the dream of any of the 60 teams involved in Canada’s major junior leagues, wasn’t easy, either.