“These guys were his idols,” Peter Grubauer said.
Philipp was barely more than a toddler.
“That was always my goal growing up,” Philipp Grubauer said. “Watched a bunch of highlight videos. I wanted to be that guy.”
Fast-forward a quarter of a century and that kid has grown, not only into a 6-foot-1, 188-pound goalie, but someone whose impact might one day match his idols, with him preparing to become one of the biggest faces on the NHL’s newest team.
After being voted a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the best goaltender in the NHL last season, Grubauer decided to leave the Colorado Avalanche and sign a six-year, $35.4 million contract with the Seattle Kraken on July 28. It was a daring and perhaps surprising move for a goalie who could have stuck with one of the Stanley Cup favorites but instead decided on a different path.
“Once the [free agency] window opened, Seattle called and it was a no-brainer for me to join a club that’s brand new, to be part of something and make history like [the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017] did, to be the first guys who they sign with this team,” Grubauer said after he signed.
He will be the No. 1 goalie for the Kraken, the player with the pressure and the demands, perhaps the most important player on the fledgling franchise. It’s what he wanted growing up, though, through his early days in North America when he spoke barely any English, to his time as a backup with the Washington Capitals and as a starter with the Avalanche.
“You have to prove yourself,” he said during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, before the Avalanche were eliminated by the Golden Knights in six games in the second round. “Nothing is handed to you. You’ve got to prove yourself every night. You’re only as good as your last game.”
It’s what he has believed for so long, since he was a kid watching some of the best goaltenders to ever play the game, dreaming big from his home in Rosenheim, a city in Bavaria, Germany, not far from the Austrian border.
“In the videos are skills, and Philipp copied the moves from goalies as a child. He was 3 or 4,” Peter said. “It’s funny to see this. And years [after] to see your son in the NHL, it’s unbelievable.”
Now it is Grubauer in those videos, Grubauer the idol.
“Philipp is a huge role model in our club,” said Siegfried “Siegi” Harrer, the goalie coach for Star Bulls Rosenheim. “For me as a coach, that’s very important because I like to refer the kids and youngsters to Philipp when it comes to what can be achieved. I then also like to show videos of him in training.”
Grubauer was seen as the key to Colorado’s fortunes when he was acquired in a trade with Washington along with defenseman Brooks Orpik for a second-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft on June 22, 2018.
At the time, the Avalanche were a team with a dynamic offense but their goaltender, Semyon Varlamov, had dealt with injury problems in each of the previous two seasons.
After splitting time during his first two seasons in Colorado, with Varlamov in 2018-19 and Pavel Francouz in 2019-20, Grubauer took over last season and went 30-9-1 with a League-leading 1.95 goals-against average (minimum 25 games). He was also tied for first in shutouts (seven) with Varlamov, now playing for the New York Islanders, and sixth in save percentage (.922).
However, Colorado never got where it wanted with Grubauer in the playoffs, losing in the second round in each of his three seasons, and in July, Grubauer chose to sign with Seattle after he and the Avalanche couldn’t come to terms on a new contract.
“I think it’s incredible to be part of something new and make history in terms of playing the first-ever game and being part of that group and doing the same thing Vegas did,” Grubauer said after signing with the Kraken. “That’s the goal.”
To be like Vegas. To be like Marc-Andre Fleury, the goalie who beat out Grubauer for the Vezina Trophy three years after he helped lead the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season, ultimately losing to the Capitals in five games.
Grubauer was Washington’s backup to Braden Holtby that season and got an up-close look at what could now be his own future. A future, and pressure, that he’s been preparing for his whole life.
“He’s very, very focused,” his mother, Susi, said. “Very calm.”
Which is part of the reason why the Kraken wanted him.
“I think he’s got a great head, great mentality,” said Devan Dubnyk, who backed up Grubauer last season after being acquired in a trade with the San Jose Sharks on April 10. “He’s the exact personality you want for a guy that’s going to be in there every night for you. He’s relaxed. He doesn’t get rattled, regardless of the situation.
“I like that he’s got a ton of tools, so he’s able to break out and do some crazy acrobatic stuff if need be, but if he doesn’t need to, he’s also extremely technical and smooth and calm. I’ve been very impressed, not only watching him on the ice but just getting to know him personally.”
That is not new, that mentality, that calm. That ability to be ready in the biggest of moments.
Ingo Dieckmann, the organizational manager of Star Bulls Rosenheim, remembered Grubauer during a game in Kaufbeuren in the 2007-08 season, when he was 16 years old.
“Our regular goalkeeper didn’t make a good impression and so the coach said in the dressing room that Philipp would play today,” Dieckmann recalled. “And Philipp looked up briefly, said OK, went out and we won the game 2-1. Philipp had an outstanding game.
“I thought before, ‘Oh, 16 years, let’s see, we have nothing to lose. It can only be good.’ And it just was.”
He could do it. He could be as good as he had to be, as his team needed him to be.
This has been the plan as far back as Grubauer can remember. He started attending games at 2 or 3 with Susi, his father doing some work for the local club team. He got on skates at 4, and even then, his passion was apparent.
But, as Peter said, “It’s no plan to play in the NHL,” still seeming to marvel at what has happened.
It became more serious at 13, 14, 15, as he approached the 2008 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft that would change his life, sending him from Rosenheim to Belleville of the Ontario Hockey League, where he would have the good fortune to be teammates with Bjorn Krupp, son of longtime NHL defenseman Uwe Krupp.
“He was pretty flashy back then, knocking pucks out of the air with his blocker to clear it on the penalty kill,” Krupp said. “It stuck with me.”
Krupp would ease Grubauer’s introduction to North American hockey, speaking to the young goalie in German, hanging out with him, seeing his personality emerge.
“He’s a very quiet guy,” Krupp said. “You can tell by the way he plays. He’s very calm. So that’s also his personality was very quiet. He worked his bag off. Was very determined. Had a goal.”
That goal remains.
Back in Rosenheim, at ROFA-Stadion, where the Star Bulls play, the VIP area has recently been redesigned. Grubauer’s picture hangs there, a life-sized tribute to a player who had always wanted to be among the best. He is wearing lederhosen with the Stanley Cup in hand, from his day with the Cup in 2018.
“I’m pretty proud of him, what he’s accomplished,” Krupp said. “Especially for a German player.
“It’s growing with Leon Draisaitl being a very dominant player and showing kids that there’s hope and potential that can come from these smaller countries, smaller hockey countries. There’s more and more kids playing nowadays and having a goaltender, not just having a forward … it shows if you put your mind to something, it doesn’t matter where you come from.”
They hope he will come for another day with the Cup, someday, with the Kraken. It would be a chance for another tribute, another celebration, another moment in which Grubauer tries to place his name among those greats he spent so much time watching.
NHL.com/de independent senior writer Stefan Herget contributed to this report