You'd be hard pressed to find a hockey fan who doesn't agree that the goaltender is the most important position on the team. Many teams have won hoards of games in the regular season, but what separates the best teams is the man between the pipes who can lead a team to a championship. I know Wisconsin fans can certainly agree, after seeing Brian Elliott carry the Badgers to the 2006 National Championship.
In search of that elusive elite netminder Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves and staff have turned to Ontario goaltender Gabe Grunwald from the Ajax-Pickering AAA midget team. The Badgers recently received a verbal commitment from the goaltending prospect shortly after a visit to Madison.
Grunwald, who committed for the 2013 season registered a 2.32 GAA and a .921 save percentage last season with Ajax-Pickering. The 6'4, 185 pound goalie was kind enough to answer a few questions for Bucky's 5th Quarter over the weekend. For his answers, follow after the jump.
B5Q: Can you give us a little insight to your recruiting process and talk about what how long you had been talking to Wisconsin and what other schools you were looking at?
GG: Schools garnered interest in me since a little before the beginning of last season. Scouts saw me and seemed to really like the way I play. I didn't really start talking with Wisconsin until about half-way through the season when they let me know that they were looking for a goaltender for the beginning of the 2013 season. Mike Eaves received footage of me playing and reviewed it over with goalie coach Jeff Sanger and they both seemed to like the way I play as well. Mike Eaves took me on an official visit about a month ago and I committed soon afterwards. Other schools that were talking to me include UMass Amherst, Quinnipiac and RIT.
B5Q: Wisconsin has a long history of success with goaltenders, did that have an effect on you being willing to wait until 2013 to come to Wisconsin and what made you decide on the Badgers?
GG: Yes, the fact that Wisconsin has had a long history of success with goaltenders is one of the main reasons why I decided to commit to Wisconsin, but there are many other reasons as well. My goal is to eventually play in the NHL and goalies like Curtis Joseph, Mike Richter, Jim Carey and Brian Elliott are all great goalies who have come out of Wisconsin and had successful careers in the NHL. It really is an honor to play for the Badgers who have such an impressive alumni of accomplished goaltenders. The Kohl Center and the upcoming La Bahn Arena also contributed to my decision to commit to Wisconsin. The atmosphere in the Kohl Center is second-to-none and the plans I saw for the new practice facility looks absolutely world class and I am excited. Playing under Mike Eaves who has had so much success in his coaching career will also be an exceptional opportunity. Academically, the University of Wisconsin-Madison offers students one of the best educations in the world which also helped in my decision. Lastly, there is some history in goaltenders from my area who have had success in Wisconsin. I actually attended the same elementary school as Curtis Joseph and currently reside in the same town Brian Elliott grew up in. By following them in their footsteps by committing to Wisconsin I hope to have success similar to them.
B5Q: Playing in Canada you’ve obviously been exposed to Major Juniors, was the OHL something you ever seriously considered and is it still an option?
GG: The OHL was something I was seriously considering playing in earlier this year. It is a very talented league with some of the best NHL prospects in the world. However, the NCAA route with Wisconsin attracted me more for a few reasons. For one, the NCAA puts greater emphasis on education than major junior which I think is very important for all student-athletes. In terms of the facilities, there is just no comparison between the facilities at Wisconsin and the ones in the OHL. As well, Wisconsin will give me a longer time to develop which I think can be very beneficial for me in the long-run and attractive to pro teams. Despite some OHL and QMJHL teams presenting interest in me, I am only focused on preparing myself for Wisconsin at the current moment.
B5Q: You played with the Ajax Midget program last season. Do you know where you will be playing next season yet?
GG: For next season, many junior teams have had interest in me in both the US and Canada. However, I will most likely be playing for the Newmarket Hurricanes, a Tier 2 Jr. A team based out of my hometown in Ontario. They finished first place overall in the OJHL last year and will probably have another great year next year. The team also contains a strong goaltending alumni there as well, which includes Curtis Joseph and Dan Ellis.
B5Q: Most Badger fans haven’t had an opportunity to see you play. Can you give us a quick description of your style and maybe who you try and pattern your game after?
GG: I play a very unique style and don't really model my entire game after one specific goalie. If I had to say which goalie my style most closely resembles, it would probably be a closest to James Reimer of the Toronto Maple Leafs. I have a pretty large frame (6'4) and like to use that with a combination of quickness, and competitiveness to stop the puck. Despite that I like to generally use a wider stance than most goalies, style doesn't matter to me too much as long as I am stopping the puck. I also think I have a winning attitude much like Patrick Roy and the ability to compete and battle much like Dominik Hasek.