Q&A with Dov Grumet-Morris

By Al Alven

Selected by the Flyers in the fifth round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft (161st overall), goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris is enjoying a remarkable senior season at Harvard University.

The Evanston, Illinois native backstopped the Crimson to a 18-8-3 mark in the regular season, good for the No. 11 ranking in the nation. His sparkling .948 save percentage is tops in the country among Division I netminders, while his equally-impressive 1.58 goals against average ranks second.

Grumet-Morris has already set the school record for career shutouts (10) and has tied the single-season mark of five. He also owns the school record for single-season games started, games played and minutes played, all set last season as a junior.

Additionally, the 23-year-old netminder is currently challenging the school mark in single-season GAA and save percentage and ranks second (and is within reach of the record) in five career categories, including games played, games started, minutes played, saves, and save percentage. He could conceivably graduate with up to 10 Harvard goaltending records.

The aforementioned accomplishments have Grumet-Morris in serious consideration for this season’s Hobey Baker Award, the honor annually bestowed upon the top collegiate player in the nation.

For now however, the ambitious prospect’s focus is solely on the ECAC playoffs. The Crimson earned a first round bye after finishing with the conference’s second-best regular record during the regular season. The team will face a tough challenge in St. Lawrence University in a best-of-three series this weekend.

The winner will advance to the conference semi-finals, one step closer to a berth in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Hockey’s Future recently had the opportunity to speak with Grumet-Morris as he was making preparations for this weekend’s series. Among the topics discussed were the goaltender’s thoughts on his early hockey influences, his career at Harvard and his potential future with the Flyers organization.

HF: What would you say have been the key factors behind the team’s success this season?
DGM: Well, first of all, we have a new head coach [Ted Donato] who has kind of revitalized our program. I think that he’s brought a lot of fundamental, defensively sound systems and concepts of the game to our program. And I also believe that with him being just one year removed from playing in the NHL, he really has a very good grasp of what it’s like to be a player and, also being a former alum of our university, what it’s like to be a student-athlete at our school.

HF: What kind of immediate impact did coach Donato make on the program?
DGM: I think that the main thing that really impressed a lot of the guys was that our coach played at our school, went on to play in the Olympics, then went on to play in the NHL for 13 years. It just goes to show that you can play at an Ivy League school and can go on to have a very successful professional career. To play in the NHL for 13 years when the average is only about two and a half years is very impressive. I think that what he’s been able to do, change his role from a scorer to a defensive specialist, and pretty much play on any team in any system, including playing for the Dallas Stars just one year removed from the Stars winning the Stanley Cup, that really is something that did not go unnoticed, and was immediately noted by our players.

HF: The team opens defense of its ECAC title with a best-of-three playoff series against St. Lawrence this weekend. How do you feel the two teams match-up?
DGM: We definitely have a very challenging first round opponent in St. Lawrence. They’re high up on the list of teams that are already being considered for the NCAA Tournament. So this match-up has a lot of implications for our program and for the tournament. These games are must wins. At this time of year, every game is do-or-die. So, I think that our focus is literally on playing a strong, sound game against a very good opponent. We played St. Lawrence just a few weeks ago, so we know that they are a very tough team. We want to win our conference and get to [the Frozen Four in] Albany, so that is our main goal.

HF: Harvard has won the ECAC championship two of the past three seasons and has appeared in the NCAA Tournament in all three of your previous campaigns with the team. What kind of advantage does that type of experience give you over the other teams in the conference playoffs?
DGM: For our team, well, we actually are a relatively young team, believe it or not. We have nine freshman. Actually, there are 10 new players, because we also had one transfer. But, I think that this will actually help us. We have a lot of new, fresh blood, and those players will be hungry to win their championship. In terms of our experience, the fact that we have been in many different types of games against many different opponents from year to year, has taught us how to meet different challenges. Hopefully, the challenges we face this year will be recognizable and our experience will help bring us through.

HF: Given the Crimson’s recent NCAA track record, is there any concern that the team could look past the ECAC playoffs and be caught off-guard by a team like St. Lawrence?
DGM: No, I think we’re pretty sharp right now. We’re still two weeks out from the NCAAs and we fully understand that we need these wins to lock up a spot in the tournament. So, I think our focus is pretty good right now.

HF: All things considered, how far do you feel this team can go?
DGM: We’ve been a very, very good team this season. We defeated the No. 1 team in the nation in Boston College and we’ve defeated five top 10 teams. So, I know for a fact that we can compete at the highest level. I think that what it’s going to come down to in the end is a little bit of luck. That’s always involved. And if we’re able to keep the fire that we had at the beginning of the year throughout the playoffs, we’ll be alright. After this weekend, it will be one-game eliminations. So, we’re going to have to bring it every night. There are no off nights; you lose one game and you’re out. Again, we understand that, and I believe we are ready for that challenge.

HF: In terms of your play this season, you seem to have taken your game to a whole new level. To what do you attribute your overall performance?
DGM: Well, I think it’s just been a matter of the natural progression of my game. Playing in a prominent program like the one here has allowed me to gain experience in all kinds of situations, including many big games. It has really helped me mature. The more you play, the more you learn and get better. The better sense you get for the position and the game. For me, that has been the main thing. Our team has also played some very strong overall defense this year, really over the past few seasons. That has really helped me out, and has given me the opportunity to just relax back in the crease and improve at my own pace.

HF: How would you describe the evolution of your game over your NCAA career at Harvard?
DGM: I’ve worked a lot with my goaltending coach, Bruce Irving, who has done an awesome job with me and the other goaltenders in the program. He has helped me go from a pure reliance on reaction and athleticism to a more fundamentally sound game. Coach Irving has helped me refine my game and make things much more simple. Obviously, it has had a huge effect on my game.

HF: You currently rank at or near the top of a number of statistical categories in the nation. You’ve also broken a number of longstanding Harvard goaltending records, and stand to break a few more before the season is over. What do personal accolades such as these mean to you?
DGM: Right now they really don’t mean much, honestly. Especially because of how successful our team has been overall. To me, this regular season has been much more enjoyable. Last year, our team didn’t have quite as good of a regular season, and it was difficult to go through that. This year, like I said, it’s always good to end the regular season on a great note. For me, that has been the focus through the whole year. The individual accomplishments are great, but the team’s success is the most important thing.

HF: How old were you when you started playing hockey, and how did you get into the game?
DGM: I actually started skating when I was three years old, and I played on my first team when I was four. My dad introduced me to the sport, and it’s something that I have loved doing since I first got involved. It’s always been a huge part of my life.

HF: Who would you say were the biggest influences in your career?
DGM: Well, again, my father definitely had a large degree of influence on me. He played a little bit in college at the club level, where he learned the basic fundamentals of skating and other aspects. He was my first teacher, so he was definitely a major, major influence on my career. I would also say that, in terms of watching pro goaltenders while growing up, my favorite was always Mike Richter. He was such a great athlete and a great skater, which is a very important thing.

HF: What were some of the other reasons you admired Richter so much?
DGM: Well, I just loved his style of play. He wasn’t the biggest guy out on the ice, but he was just such a technically sound goaltender. Of course, he won the Stanley Cup with the Rangers back in 1994 and then led Team USA to the World Cup in 1996. So, during that time, he was the best
goaltender in the world. I really admired him, his style of play and what he was able to accomplish.

HF: Your older sister Aviva was an outstanding defenseman at Princeton. What kind of an influence was she on your career?
DGM: Well, she’s two years older than me, so I didn’t get a chance to really play with her on any teams while we were growing up. But, when she went away to college and she was gaining a lot of interest from a lot of different universities, that was the first time I ever really looked at the college scene, so to speak. I guess that her going to Princeton really opened up my eyes to the Ivy League schools. That definitely had a major influence on where I ended up.

HF: Growing up in Illinois, were you a Blackhawks fan?
DGM: Oh, I was definitely a big Blackhawks fan growing up, back when they had Ed Belfour, Steve Larmer, Jeremy Roenick and all of those guys. They had some pretty good teams back in those days. I think they made something like 22 consecutive playoff appearances, so they were very consistent and solid for a long, long time. Then, well, they’ve kind of had some down years since that time (laughs). But, they were always pretty good while I was growing up.

HF: You played one season with the Danville Wings in the North American Hockey League. Talk about your experience in that league and how it helped prepare you for the college game.
DGM: I think that the biggest thing I gained there was experience. Again, the most important aspect of the evolution of a goaltender is simply playing in games, seeing different situations and challenging yourself constantly. Gaining consistency is essential. What juniors allows, even more so than college, is the opportunity to play a 50-game schedule and play every night. That allows you to challenge yourself in different ways, and I think that’s the biggest thing I got out of my experience in Danville.

HF: What were the primary factors that played into your decision to attend and play at Harvard?
DGM: Obviously, the education is something that’s second to none here. That’s definitely important, because, no matter what, you’re not going to play hockey forever. So, you want to put yourself in the best position you can to choose what it is you really want to do and enjoy. I think that going to this school has really afforded me that luxury. And, in terms of the hockey, this is one of the top programs in the East. We’ve been nationally ranked and have been in the NCAA tournament in each of my first three years here. So, it’s definitely a top-flight program, and has been the best of both worlds for me.

HF: Where there any other options, or schools that recruited you hard?
DGM: There were other schools that recruited me, but in the end it was pretty much one trip, one commitment for me. The Harvard situation worked out really well for me, and I was very happy with it from the very beginning.

HF: How would you define your Harvard career up to this point?
DGM: I feel that my class in particular has been able to bring a lot of consistency to the program. That’s the main thing. Hopefully, this year, with these upcoming playoffs, we’ll really be able to realize what we’ve been able to accomplish as a whole over the past four seasons.

HF: Are there any particular highlights, or even lowlights, that stand out over your first three years with the Crimson?
DGM: The two biggest games that stand out for me were against Cornell. The first was in my freshman year, when we beat them in overtime in the title game to win the ECAC championship. That was an early thrill in my career with Harvard. Then, the following year, we lost to Cornell in the championship game, once again in overtime. Both of those games stand out more so than any other individual games throughout my career here.

HF: You were drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2002. Where were you when you found out that you had been selected, and what was your reaction?
DGM: Well, actually, my roommate [forward Rob Flynn], who was drafted by the Rangers that year, and I were up in Toronto visiting another teammate. So we were actually there, we were at the draft. It was a very cool experience. Obviously, it was a pretty big honor. It was a while ago now, so a lot of things have changed. But, it was a very cool experience and something I will never forget.

HF: Did you get any sense beforehand that the Flyers were interested in you?
DGM: No, I can’t say that I did. It’s pretty tough on the players in that, outside of maybe the top five guys in the draft overall, it’s very difficult to predict where you might be ending up. The way I approached it, and the way that I think a lot of guys approach it is, you try not to guess what team you’ll end up with. Otherwise, you could just be setting yourself up for a big disappointment.

HF: What kind of contact has the organization kept with you since you were drafted?
DGM: The Flyers are really good about letting the college guys develop within their own programs. That has definitely been the case with me. It’s really difficult if you have someone outside trying to coach someone playing somewhere else. So, they’re very good about that. They’ve done the requisite amount during the offseason, coordinating different ideas and programs with me and such. Overall, I think that the situation has been handled in the best way.

HF: Back in 1993, the Flyers drafted two Harvard goaltenders – Aaron Israel and Tripp Tracy – who went on to enjoy very brief pro careers. This has facilitated something of a negative opinion on the chances of an Ivy League netminder being successful after college here in Philadelphia. What are your thoughts on that blanket assessment?
DGM: You know, I don’t really know. Whenever you’re referring back to a different time period, there are different dynamics at play. Now, if you look at top goaltenders in the country over the past four years, a lot of them have come out of the Ivy League. And that doesn’t really mean anything either. All it means is that you really can’t compare one era to another with any true degree of accuracy. I’m not really engrained on the specifics of what has happened in the past with drafts and various players. It’s a tough thing to predict. Some guys make it, but there are so many others who just don’t ever pan out, for whatever reason. It’s so difficult to lay hopes on a player three or four years after he is drafted, because things so many things can change.

HF: The Flyers seem to have a lot of goaltending depth in their system right now. Where do you see yourself fitting in? Any idea where you might be playing next season?
DGM: Well, again, that’s really something that I just don’t know that much about. To be honest, it’s just not something I have really followed or concerned myself with. My focus has been on the program here at Harvard, helping the team compete and play at the highest level we are capable of. When you’re in the midst of playing at the collegiate level, that’s really all that matters. It’s difficult to look beyond the current situation when you’re trying to finish off a playoff run here. Once the season is over, that will be a good time for me to sit back and look over my hockey career beyond Harvard. But, right now, this season and these upcoming playoffs are my only real concern.

HF: In terms of your future in general, what are the things you feel you need to work on most? What specific aspects of your game need to improve in order for you to reach and potentially excel beyond the collegiate level?
DGM: I think that, overall, there is improvement to be made in reaction time and being able to see things develop in advance. I think that’s just a natural maturation process that goaltenders go through when they move from one level to the next. I’m sure that once the season is over and once I have firmly established where I will be next season, then the coaching staff at that time will make it very clear to me what they feel I need to work on most. But, in my mind, those are the main things right now.

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.