It's taken five years for goalie Dov Grumet-Morris
to finally feel like a veteran. He's back in the ECHL to see if he can play like one full-time.
Greenville acquired the rights to Grumet-Morris, 28, in a trade with Utah last week. But the Grizzlies had controlled only his rights, not his actual play. Grumet-Morris spent the past two years in Austria, a detour that was most beneficial for all the wear the netminder got to put on his goaltending gear.
Grumet-Morris stepped on the ice for 83 games in Austria the last two seasons. In his three North American pro seasons before that, he got 80 games, but that number is deceiving. His career had all the momentum of a Zamboni going uphill, as he hopped among five AHL teams, one in the ECHL and one in the CHL.
Grumet-Morris had the markings of something better than a temp-agency netminder when he came out of Harvard, where he went 19-9-3 with a 1.63 goals-against average and .947 save percentage as a senior. But his rookie deal was with San Antonio, which already was loaded with Steve Passmore
, Karl Goehring
and David LeNeveu
By the time he worked his way to an NHL/AHL deal with Nashville in 2007-08, the Predators were grooming Pekka Rinne
to get the minutes in Milwaukee.
"It's a professional industry. It's the way it works. You have to accept it if you want to play in the industry," Grumet-Morris said. "There are too many qualified players and not enough spots. That's what makes (professional hockey) competitive. Things happen for good and bad. I'm very much committed this year to trying to advance in hockey in North America."
If Grumet-Morris does, he can credit his opportunity in Austria. He said his workload there should catch him up on the steady developmental time he's missed in the minors.
"Goaltending is like pitching. You don't draft a pitcher when he's 18 and put him in the major leagues," Grumet-Morris said. "It's the same thing with goaltending. You need seasoning. Playing every day is essential to a goaltender, not just from a physical standpoint, but mentally. I'm more like a guy who has played three or four years of seasoning, and is looking to step past that."
Flache returning to Gwinnett healthy, happy
-- Three years overseas produced the desired recuperative results on defenseman Paul Flache
. With a bolstered body, he's ready to toss himself back into the meat grinder that is North American pro hockey again.
Flache, 28, has inked a free-agent deal with Gwinnett after spending the last three seasons skating in Germany. The Gladiators are the same team he limped away from after the 2006-07 season. His pro career had been littered with ailments to that point, including a fractured back during that season.
He wanted to try a brand of the sport that didn't chip away at his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame so much. Flache said he immediately started noticing the difference in his body after just one season.
"It's a different style of game. It's all skating and bigger ice," he said. "I was fine over there. I feel terrific."
The real payoff came in the offseasons. Flache said he found that summer training is a lot more effective when you don't have to wade through it at half-speed because of lingering injuries. That run of conditioning is the largest reason he doesn't think a return to the ECHL means an instant replay of hurt.
"I've done what I can for the summer. I'm going to Gwinnett in better shape than I've ever been," he said.
Flache's versatility demands that level of preparation. He's played defense and forward throughout his career, and was up front for most of his last two seasons in Germany. He also was stationed at forward during the high point of his Gwinnett days, when he scored the overtime goal that propelled the Gladiators past the Louisiana IceGators and into the Western Conference finals of the 2004 Kelly Cup playoffs.
"I can play both positions," he said. "It's just going to come down to where I fit in."
Energetic Reaney joins Elmira
-- Power forward Les Reaney
has needed all his battling instincts to keep his pro hockey career alive. Success may have made him feistier than ever, which could add an edge to the Elmira lineup.
Elmira has inked the 6-foot-2, 221-pound center to a free-agent deal, and he joins the squad after helping Rapid City to the Central Hockey League title last season. He topped the Rush in 2009-10 with 86 points and 58 assists, placing him fifth and fourth in the league in those categories, respectively. He also chipped in 150 penalty minutes.
Reaney, 26, really started tossing his weight around in the playoffs. He earned playoff MVP honors by pacing his team with 9 goals and 26 points, and assisted on Rapid City's championship-winning goal in the second overtime of Game 6 of the finals.
"Goaltending is like pitching. You don't draft a pitcher when he's 18 and put him in the major leagues. It's the same thing with goaltending. You need seasoning. Playing every day is essential to a goaltender, not just from a physical standpoint, but mentally. I'm more like a guy who has played three or four years of seasoning, and is looking to step past that." -- Dov Grumet-Morris
"Last year I got my name back on the map," he said.
It started falling off in 2007-08, when he left Niagara University after his junior season in favor of a two-way deal with Edmonton. He reported to Springfield of the AHL, but immigration paperwork problems kept him sidelined for six weeks. By the time he straightened that out, all he could squeeze in was five games with Stockton of the ECHL.
He rebounded with 15 goals and 43 points in 46 games for ECHL's Dayton in 2008-09, but that wasn't enough to get him an AHL look. And last season, despite his start-to-finish dominance for the Rush, there weren't even any ECHL doors open for him.
The Elmira contract at least gives him a foothold at that level for now.
"Somebody has to like you and you have to get your opportunity," he said. "I'm still young. I've finally realized what it takes. If I have a good year like I did last year, I think I'll get a call-up to the (AHL)."
Bakersfield to take on ECHL's best
-- It will be Bakersfield against the rest of the ECHL in the league's all-star game this season.
Under a new format announced this week, the host Condors will take on a league all-star team at the event Jan. 26. This will be the second time in the 19 years of the game that the host team will play together as one side. The Charlotte Checkers defeated the ECHL All-Stars 7-6 in the 1997 contest.
"This format will certainly add to the intensity of the game and make for a much more meaningful contest for the fans in Bakersfield and across the country," ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna said in a statement.
A skills competition will take place during pre-game festivities and during the first intermission. Skills that are scheduled to be a part of the competition are accuracy shooting, fastest skater, hardest shot and king of the shootout.