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Daigneau Speaks Softly But Carries a Big Stick

By Jon PAUL Morosi, Crimson Staff Writer

They are very different goaltenders. And very different people.

One patterns himself after the pliable Mike Richter, relying on footwork and slinky-like flexibility. The other fills up the net with his 6’4”, 190-pound frame and idolized Patrick Roy, trying to mimic his calculated positioning and rebound control. One talks every bit as freely—though more substantively—as that guy who dominates section discussions. The other is not often interviewed and speaks in somewhat quieter tones when he does talk to reporters.

But as different as their playing styles and personalities may be, junior Dov Grumet-Morris and sophomore John Daigneau are friends, even as they compete for time between the pipes on what is arguably Harvard’s most talented hockey team in a decade.

They push one another during practice, study the nuances of their position together and room together on road trips. They spend extra time together twice a week during assistant coach Bruce Irving’s goalies-only sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

And they talk often—sort of.

“He’s very easy to talk to,” Daigneau said of Grumet-Morris, “if you can get some words in.”

Daigneau, as you might’ve guessed, is the quieter (and more Roy-like) of the two. But after seeing only limited action as a freshman, this weekend represents a big opportunity for him to make a loud impression—to his teammates, coaches and the ECAC.

Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni announced to his team before Monday’s practice that Daigneau will start Friday at Vermont, and Grumet-Morris, the team’s starting goaltender for the better part of two seasons, will play Saturday at Dartmouth. (Even before Saturday’s 2-0 loss to Brown, during which Grumet-Morris stopped 22 of 24 shots, Mazzoleni planned to start Daigneau once this weekend.)

Given that Grumet-Morris started much of the last two seasons and had the nation’s fifth-best save percentage last year, Mazzoleni’s decision speaks volumes about the development of Daigneau, who was 4-1 with a .943 save percentage and a sizzling 1.45 goals-against average last season.

The move also demonstrates Mazzoleni’s confidence that the two are capable of handling the situation mentally. The competition hasn’t affected their friendship, and both agree that it helps their on-ice performance.

“We respect each other as people, more importantly than as goaltenders,” Daigneau said. “It’s a relationship that started off the ice, and now it’s a relationship on the ice.”

Daigneau said one thing he has worked on is his communication with teammates. And who better to help him with that than Grumet-Morris, an expert when it comes to communicating with, well, anyone.

“We get along really well,” Daigneau said. “We give each other pointers here and there, and we have a lot of fun, because you still have to have a lot of fun out there.”

An astute student of hockey history, Grumet-Morris is aware that Chuckie Hughes ’92 and Allain Roy ’92 shared time on Harvard’s 1989 national championship team. He said having two potential No. 1 goaltenders is “definitely better for the team.”

Grumet-Morris was also part of a tandem as a freshman, when he shared time with current senior Will Crothers before winning the job outright.

“John has earned his playing time, just as Will earned his playing time before me, and I earned my playing time when I came here,” Grumet-Morris said. “There’s no problem whatsoever. If anything, it prepares our team better, in the event of an injury or someone having a bad run.”

Asked if he’d be “totally fine” if the two shared time the rest of the season, Grumet-Morris smiled.

“I’d be ‘totally fine’ with winning,” he said. “That’s the only important thing right now. As long as we win, that’s what we’re focused on.”

Daigneau spent last summer in his hometown of Milwaukee, training and working a construction job. He returned to Harvard with the same approach he had as a freshman: “Push Dov, because I know Dov is going to push me.”

But Daigneau understands that Grumet-Morris is still the first option.

“I don’t have any expectations as far as playing time,” Daigneau said. “Coach is going to give me what he feels I deserve. I just have to work hard to show him my best, and the rest is up to him. I can only control it to a certain point.”

Of course, Daigneau knew it was going to be this way. At the time he was making his college decision, Crothers (then a sophomore) and Grumet-Morris (then a freshman) were dueling for playing time.

Amazing as it sounds, Daigneau almost didn’t get recruited at all. He played his final year of junior hockey with the USHL’s Chicago Steel but was cut by that club at the beginning of the season.

He next played in Albany, N.Y., with the Eastern Junior Hockey League for a month, and then came back to Chicago when the Steel had an opening—only to be cut again. At that point, Daigneau was not a strong candidate to play Division I college hockey.

But one more chance came. The Steel invited him back for a third time. By November, he was the starter, and by January, coaches were calling. With his list pared down to two schools—ECAC rivals Harvard and Cornell—he visited the respective campuses on consecutive weekends: Cambridge first, then Ithaca.

On his visit to Harvard, he spent a lot of time with Grumet-Morris and “fell in love with just being here.”

“I just fell in love with the school, and thought that, if I came here and worked hard, I’d get some chances and go from there,” Daigneau said.

And here he is, having thoroughly impressed Mazzoleni, the former goaltender and a self-proclaimed harsh critic, and earned that chance after a little more than one season. Everyone at Bright Hockey Center, it seems—coaches, teammates, and even Grumet-Morris—is looking forward to seeing what will happen next.

“We’re excited to see John get a chance to get in there, and do what he can do,” said captain Kenny Smith, adding that he’s sure Grumet-Morris “will do great on Saturday.”

“We’ve got two goalies who are great people,” Smith continued, “and great players.”

So maybe they’re not that different after all.

—Staff writer John P. Morosi can be reached at morosi@fas.harvard.edu

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