The Battle Of The Goalies

It was one of the most anticipated match-ups of the ECAHL year and what a disappointment.

Not the contest for the Cleary Cup. The game between Harvard and Cornell looked like a real David versus Goliath — except this time the oddsmakers got it right. Another trophy may have hinged on last night’s game, the Hobey Baker Award and thanks to a flat(tened) Crimson team, nothing was decided.

The game had the potential to be a classic goaltenders’ duel. Both netminders, Dov Grumet-Morris of Harvard and David McKee of Cornell are finalists for the Hobey Baker Award. In fact, their resumes are so similar that it screamed for a head-to-head contest to see whose gaudy statistics would at least make the Hobey Hat Trick.

“The numbers that McKee has put up are near the best that any goaltender has put up in the history of college hockey,” said the obviously partisan Cornell coach Mike Shafer. “That’s why he’s the real obvious choice to be Hobey.”

The truth is, though McKee’s numbers are slightly better, both goaltenders have put up seasons that are among the best in the history of college hockey.

McKee has already set the ECAC record for most shutouts in a season with his blanking of Vermont on Friday night in the semifinal. He has seven shutouts in his last 13 games, including back-to-back shutouts twice. A pillar of consistency through two seasons with the Big Red, he has played in 64 straight games for the team. McKee’s 1.24 goals against average entering the weekend was best in the nation and would be third-best in NCAA history, and he lowered that total.

He can now add a share of the record for fewest goals allowed the ECACHL tournament, giving up just three.

Grumet-Morris counters with a 1.53 goals against average entering the weekend, second in the nation behind McKee. However, his save percentage of .949 is best in the country, indicative of the fact that he has been tested more often than his Ivy rival. That number would break RPI netminder Joel Laing’s ECACHL record and would also rank third in NCAA history,

Instead of a slew of shutouts, Grumet-Morris has stockpiled one-goal outings against the nation’s elite. In seven games against ranked opponents he has a .953 save percentage, stopping 205 of 216 shots. He has two ECACHL championships in his four years — the tournament’s winningest goaltender all time.

None of the above changes significantly despite giving up six goals in two games this weekend at Albany.

“Dov kept us in the game,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato. “He made six or seven saves of the spectacular variety. He’s been so good this year that we’ve taken them for granted.”

But McKee won the ECACHL championship, doesn’t that decide everything? After all, if it is a contest between players from two teams, winning should count for something. The fact is McKee has enabled Cornell to finish in first place in the regular season, the postseason, and is a favorite to make the Frozen Four. Harvard finished in second place. Case closed.

Well, not exactly. The Harvard game also demonstrated just how rock solid the Cornell defense is. McKee only faced a stern test when Cornell was shorthanded, stopping Jon Pelle down low with about six minutes left in the third period and then getting the rebound. Harvard had just 10 shots on net over the last two periods. The Crimson simply did not muster enough offense to fairly grade McKee.

Meanwhile, Grumet-Morris had to stand tall, watching a punishing Cornell forecheck that kept the puck around his goal for most of the contest. He cannot be faulted for any of the Big Red goals. He got a big piece of the first goal, a two-on-one, that trickled in. The two Charlie Cook power play goals were slapshots with about four players standing in front of the net. Any goaltender would have let those in.

The Crimson simply have had more defensive lapses during the season than the Big Red — indicative of both the game tonight and the last five minutes of the third period against Colgate.

McKee has been good when called upon, especially last weekend against Clarkson when he stopped all 12 shots he faced in the third period to force overtime and made an additional 10 in sudden death to eliminate the Golden Knights. He stood tall in the first period on Friday against Vermont, stopping all 13 Catamount shots to enable the Big Red to have a 1-0 lead coming out of the first period when it was slightly outplayed. But these gaps are few and far between, while Grumet-Morris could point to numerous times when he kept Harvard in a game.

Then again, Harvard defensemen Noah Welch and Ryan Lannon aren’t exactly squirts. And only a fool thinks denies Martin Brodeur’s elite status because he plays behind a neutral zone trap.

“I think when it comes down to individual accolades, our numbers are as much a product of our defense, clearing the way and letting you make the saves,” said the very eloquent Grumet-Morris. “I think Dave would agree with me that it is very difficult to talk about individual awards.”

Perhaps there’s only one Ivy way to decide this then — academics. The Hobey Baker Committee is supposed to consider the complete player — and that includes character and performance as a student (after all, Hobey himself was a Princeton grad). Here Grumet-Morris clearly has McKee licked.

This past Wednesday, Grumet-Morris submitted his 88-page honors thesis on Jordanian-Israeli foreign policy during the 1960s. He’s a double major in Government and Near Eastern Languages, one of only two people at Harvard with this concentration, and has worked for numerous community service organizations. McKee, only a sophomore, did not make the ECACHL All-Academic team.

So, completely ignoring the other worthy candidates from the rest of the country, who will Hobey pick? McKee’s raw numbers are probably too good to ignore, especially with Grumet-Morris — on paper — faltering a bit in the final weekend. But a look at the complete picture, including the quality and quantity of shots faced per night, as well as off ice considerations, could tilt the balance towards Grumet-Morris.

A real goaltenders duel would’ve settled it. Didn’t happen. What a disappointment.