Like a quarterback in football, rarely is there a championship-caliber team in hockey without strong goaltending. And you’d be hard pressed to find a team this season with more depth between the pipes than the San Antonio Rampage.
Between Jacob Markstrom and Dov Grumet-Morris, the Rampage have a pair of experienced goaltenders ready to hold down the fort.
“I think the tandem of Markstrom and Dov last year was one of the premier goaltending tandems in the American Hockey League,” said Rampage head coach Chuck Weber. “We are very excited to have both of them back in net for us this season.”
Although both goalies battle for the starting nod every night, they have a strong relationship off the ice that helps them push each other.
“It’s a really fun and competitive relationship we have,” said Markstrom. “Whoever plays the best is the one who plays. It was tight last year and I can’t wait to have some good battles with Dov this year. It’s going to be exciting.”
Markstrom, at 6-foot-6, 196-pounds, is one of the top young goaltending prospects in the AHL. A mammoth in the net, the Swedish netminder was selected in the second round (31st overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft by the Florida Panthers.
The 22-year-old became the youngest goalie ever to play for the Panthers when he made his NHL debut on Jan. 23, 2011. Last year, he played in seven games for the Panthers, posting a 2.66 goals-against average.
In San Antonio, Markstrom appeared in 32 games and sported a 2.32 goals-against average (10th in the AHL) and a 0.927 save percentage (3rd in the AHL). He also came up big in the playoffs for the Rampage and helped the club to its first ever playoff series victory. In eight postseason starts, he posted a 4-4-0 record and a 2.85 goals-against average.
Not to be outdone was veteran netminder Dov Grumet-Morris. The 30-year-old posted nearly identical numbers to Markstrom in San Antonio last season. In 34 games for the Rampage, he recorded a 19-13-1 record, 2.33 goals-against average and a 0.921 save percentage.
At 6-foot-2, 198 pounds, Grumet-Morris isn’t able to use his size in a way similar to Markstrom, but he counters it with an aggressive style. The Evanston, Ill., native caught fire last season and set the franchise record for seven consecutive wins, allowing a total of 12 goals in that span and sporting a 0.937 save percentage.
While Markstrom was out with an injury last year, Grumet-Morris at one point started 17 straight games and his play was a big reason the Rampage were able to make the playoffs.
“We are very good friends, but pretty different,” Grumet-Morris said. “We’re from different countries and we’re different ages. And by the nature of how big we are, we can’t do the same things. We certainly have different styles in goal, but that’s not a bad thing.”
The two netminders may have differing styles and personalities, but their goal is the same leading into Saturday’s Home Opener – stop as many pucks as possible and help the Rampage win games.
“Jacob is the young guy who is still finding his way and Dov has the experience,” said Weber. “Dov is very technically sound and very analytical in how he processes everything. Marky is so athletic with the size that he possesses. I think they pushed each other last year and I think it’s a healthy competition. They know if one guy drops the ball the other guy is going to be there to run with it. That’s going to push them every day.”
Said Florida Panthers goalie coach Robb Tallas: “One thing that makes Markstrom a little different is his athletic ability. He plays almost a smaller guys style. He likes to challenge and he has the ability to get across the crease quick. You look at Dov and he’s been around for a long time. He’s a real thinker. He’s a smart, smart individual. He understands the game and puts his time and work ethic in to make sure he’s prepared for every game. Between the two guys there is a real balance there. They both learn and feed off each other.”
Having strong goaltending allows the Rampage’s defenseman to breathe easy during games, knowing if they make a mistake, they have reliable netminder ready to bail them out.
Practice, on the other hand, is a different story.
“You feel bad for the forwards during practice,” said Rampage defenseman Tyson Strachan. “It’s so hard to score on them and they are trying to stop every puck. There is so much talent back there. It’s pretty incredible to see. They are both all-star caliber goalies.”