From NYHJ: A New York state of mind
by Charles O'Brien/Correspondent
CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. – For New Yorkers, the connection between the New York Rangers and the New York Knicks cannot be understated or overlooked.
Arguably the two most recognizable franchises in their respective leagues, each of them playing in “The World’s Most Famous Arena” and each with its own passionate and outspoken fan base, the rich traditions of the two New York franchises have often found common ground, with the summer of 1994 being perhaps the most documented and perhaps the most poignant.
In goaltender Gabe Grunwald, there is another reason for the worlds of the two franchises to intertwine.
The 6-foot-4 Grunwald, who is committed to the University of Wisconsin in 2013, is the son of the current New York Knicks executive vice president of basketball operations and GM Glen Grunwald and, recently, participated in the Rangers’ Development Camp.
Born in Colorado, Grunwald moved with his family to Toronto at the age of 2 and picked up the game of hockey at age 9, jokingly citing “Canadian Influences.” He began his career along the blue line as opposed to between the pipes.
“Goalie isn’t exactly the easiest position to pick up at a young age,” said Grunwald. “If you look at the paths that many of the top goaltenders took, they picked up the position much later in their youth career. Curtis Joseph, for example, one of my early role models, didn’t pick up being the position until he was 15-, 16-years-old.”
Eventually, his goaltending travels took him from traditional hockey markets like Toronto and New York to more obscure locales, like Flint, Mich., and Kenai River, Alaska. But in every location, Grunwald’s motive remained the same: Play as much as possible and learn from those around him in order to get better.
In spite of the right motives, he didn’t always find himself in the best situations.
“Over the past few seasons, I have not played anywhere near as much as I should have, or would have wanted to,” said Grunwald. “Every player thinks that he should have more ice time but as I moved up the ladder, I was being brought into situations where I was backing up an older player, so the ice time that I wanted, or needed, simply just wasn’t there.”
In addition to his Tier 2 stops with NAHL teams in Michigan and Alaska, Grunwald’s travels led him to Greely High School in Chappaqua, N.Y., and to the Hill Academy in Ontario to come full circle. In spite of the travels and a lack of regular playing time, he caught the eye of the Wisconsin coaching staff.
“Being from Toronto, the Canadian major juniors were always an option, but I felt that playing college hockey would be the best way for me to get the best of both worlds (a good education and further develop my game in order to make the NHL),” he said.
In spite of the traveling, he still managed to keep his ties to his father and New York strong, and spends as much time in the New York City area as possible.
“When my dad first got the job with the Knicks, my mom thought it would be a great idea if I spent some time living with him and got to experience New York,” Grunwald said. “My parents divorced when I was younger and they thought that it would be beneficial to my growth as a person if I established a better relationship with my dad, and see what his life was like on a day to day basis, so I relocated to New York.”
“I haven’t seen him play lately because he has been in Michigan and Alaska,” said Glen Grunwald, who was named the Knicks GM in April after holding that title on an interim basis for nearly a year, “but I do try to watch as many games as I can, and I am happy that Gabe has found something he loves to do and is excelling at it.”
During his time with his father, Grunwald settled in the picturesque town of Chappaqua, also known for being the home of former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. He suited up for Greely High School in 2007-08 season, amassing a record of 6-6-1 with a goals-against average of 3.52.
“Living and playing in New York was fun;” said Grunwald. “The Clintons are definitely a presence in the town and are town celebrities. The hockey, at that level, is more competitive in Toronto, but playing for my high school, in front of my dad, was something I will never forget.”
Grunwald returns to the New York area whenever he finds the time, specifically on breaks and during the offseason. This offseason’s visit, however, held a little more meaning, as the undrafted goalie participated in the Rangers Development Camp.
“My dad had absolutely nothing to do with my placement in the camp,” Grunwald said. “I was on the Rangers radar in my draft year; they brought me in for an interview at the combine and followed me since then. General manager (Glen) Sather gave me a call and invited me to the camp personally.”
He played four games in camp, winning three, and rubbing shoulders with prospects like Troy Grosenick, who is coming off a breakthrough year at Union College. Grunwald said that during exit interviews, the Rangers complimented his play and informed him that they would be following his progress at Wisconsin.
Grunwald trains and practices regularly with Malcom Subban, with whom he shares a goalie coach. Training with Subban, a first-round pick of the Boston Bruins in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, didn’t seem to change the relationship between the two keepers.
“I can’t let the achievements of other goalies affect my own focus,” Grunwald said. “I wish him and (Anthony) Stolarz (of Jackson, N.J.) the best in their careers but I try hard not to pay attention to that. Based on my lack of playing time and statistics when I did play, I didn’t deserve to get drafted. They did. I have to keep my focus on going to Wisconsin and improving my speed and agility, and continue to learn as I go along and not just rely on my size in playing the position. My best hockey is still to come and, hopefully, the right people will see that and I can make it to the NHL.”
For the 2012-13 season, Grunwald will remain in Canada and suit up for the Georgetown Raiders of the OJHL, where, for the first time, he finds himself as the clear No. 1 goalie. In spite of the nearly 500 miles between Toronto and New York City, the connection between father and son remains strong.
“We talk all the time,” Gabe said. “He is definitely part of my life as am I in his. I am proud of all of his accomplishments and the New York Knicks are definitely my favorite team.”
As the calendar heads towards September, junior organizations in the region have their schedules filled with summer tournaments, playing in front of dozens of scouts, hoping to finalize their rosters and perhaps secure a commitment for their top players.
The Hockey Essentials Program, based out of Bridgewater, N.J., and owned by Paul Losik and Mark Lotito, already boasts a strong alumni base, including Dominic Sacco, Connor Clifton, Matthew Weis and Anthony Stolarz, and the organization has had strong showing in the Junior Chowder Cup.
The program won the Senior Chowder Cup, with Tommaso Bucci (Franklin Square, N.Y.) and Patrick Schule (Fresh Meadows, N.Y.) taking home individual honors, and goaltender Matthew Atwell (Freeport, N.Y.) winning the MVP award and Lotito being named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Coach. …
The Elite Hockey Group, owned and operated by Port Washington, N.Y., resident Bob Thornton, has advanced to the playoff rounds in the Toronto Prospects tournament, the Junior and Senior Chowder Cup, and the Beantown Summer Tour. The program had arguably the upset of the Senior Chowder Cup, upending the loaded East Coast Militia squad, which featured several Division 1 players in Danny O’Regan, Matt Beattie (Whitehouse Station, N.J.) and Cam Darcy, along with high-scoring forward Frank DiChiara (Ronkonkoma, N.Y.), but it was young forward Jeremy Bracco (Freeport, N.Y.) scoring the game-winner in overtime for Elite. …
The Jersey Hitmen’s Jack Riley (West Point, N.Y.), who is committed to Mercyhurst, was the leading scorer in an EJHL summer showcase tournament, but it was the two teams from the Apple Core program that stole the show, reaching the finals in both the Junior A and Junior B divisions. The A team, led by forward Tyler Young (Sayville, N.Y.) fell to the Boston Junior Bruins in the A finals by the score of 3-2 and the B team, led by import defenseman Jonas Toupal and returning goaltender Justin Kapelmaster, upended the Syracuse Stars in the B finals.
This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of New York Hockey Journal.
Charles O’Brien can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.