Seattle's Danny Mumaugh has started three straight games for the Thunderbirds (photo Seattle Thunderbirds)
By Andy Eide
One of the biggest moments of the Thunderbirds season to date happened in Cranbrook, B.C., on Oct. 6th, and 17-year-old goalie Danny Mumaugh was right in the center of it.
Playing its third road game in as many nights, Seattle was clinging to a one-goal lead in the waning seconds of a game with the Kootenay Ice. The Ice had pulled their goalie for the extra attacker, desperately trying to get the game-tying goal. The puck found its way onto the stick of Kootenay forward Sam Rheinhart -- considered one of the best players in the WHL and a possible first overall NHL draft pick this spring. He had a seam, he took his shot, and the puck seemed destined to find the twine and tie the game.
As the crowd and Ice players began to celebrate what they thought was a dramatic goal, Mumaugh dove to his left and snagged the puck before it crossed the goal line.
"I honestly thought it was going in the net, but he fired it right into my glove," Mumaugh said of the play. "I couldn't believe it."
After the play there was a bit of chaos on the ice. The officials called 'no goal' and the Ice players all converged on the net to argue. Mumaugh, with the puck in his glove, skated away shaking his head 'no.'
He wasn't being cocky, he was being confident -- he had a swagger.
"I just knew right away that it wasn't a goal. I didn't want my teammates second guessing," he said. "I didn't want the refs to second guess and think maybe it did cross the goal line. I let them know, 'No, there's no way'."
Mumaugh grew up in Colorado, a long way away from Cranbrook, B.C., but ever since watching Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche win the Stanley Cup in 2001 he wanted to be a goalie. He signed with Seattle and last year got called up mid-way through the season when Justin Myles got hurt.
For Mumaugh, jumping from playing U-16 in Colorado to the WHL was quite an awakening.
"It's a pretty big jump and I think its good that I got a chance to get my feet wet," he said. "It kind of gave me a little bit of a leg up for this year. It was night and day between U-16 and the WHL; obviously the skill and the game is faster."
Appearing in 18 games for the T-Birds, he took the expected lumps for a 16-year-old goalie. However, by season's end he was asked to step in and earn the Thunderbirds some huge points as they tried to end their three-year-long playoff drought. When Brandon Glover got suspended for two games, Mumaugh was tapped to start against the Tri City Americans and secure a playoff berth.
Mumaugh played well that night, got his first career win, and Seattle made the playoffs. A few nights later he came into a game with Portland and helped Seattle secure the seventh seed. Playing in those big games were big confidence boosts for Mumaugh.
"When you get that win you know you can get more, and you just have to keep chipping away and keep getting better," Mumaugh says of the experience. "Confidence builds with those wins. When the coach has confidence in you he'll put you in big games like that."
Going into the offseason, Mumaugh knew that with Brandon Glover graduating the Seattle net was up for grabs. He worked hard and wanted to come back into camp and get noticed, hopefully for a chance to start.
"My main thing was just to go into camp, come in with a little bit of swagger," he said. "I was a returning guy so you have to carry yourself with confidence. Really the only goal I had was to go in, play confidently and keep calm."
Coming out of camp, Mumaugh and Myles were Seattle's goalies, and head coach Steve Konowalchuk alternated starts between the two. Both were playing well, pushing each other and giving the T-Birds solid goaltending -- something that was perceived to be a weakness going into the year.
Lately, Mumaugh has caught fire.
With the club in the middle of a tough six-game losing streak, Konowalchuk has given Mumaugh the net on three straight occasions. In those three games, Mumaugh has earned the team four points -- winning once and losing both an overtime and shootout game. Mumaugh has only allowed five goals over that stretch, good for a goals against average of 1.62 and a save percentage .945. His overall save percentage of .916 is seventh in the WHL.
So far Mumaugh is happy with his season, but is always looking to improve.
"Besides a few games, against Portland and that one against Everett, I feel good," the young goaltender says. "Even in those games, when they score you can't let it bother you. I think the thing about being a goalie is that you can't flinch, you can't show the opposition that you're angry or mad. That's the one thing you have to work on as a goalie. You can't show your emotions, you just have to stay calm and let the game come to you. Every night my goal out there is to focus on one thing at a time and give my team a chance to win -- that's the main goal."
One of the reasons for his success is his competitiveness. Another is, of course, his quick glove hand, something he said hasn't always been noticeable.
"You work on that in practice," Mumaugh says. "Ian (Seattle goalie coach Ian Gordon) before practice will always have a bucket of pucks and shoot 'em at your glove. I never really discovered it until this year, but I guess you could say that my glove hand has been going pretty good. A lot of it has to do with tracking the puck. I've got to look through screens. At times I can't use my body because I don't have a 6-foot-4 frame so I kind of have to react to it."
When it seems the trend is for bigger and taller goalies, Mumaugh is proving that your height really doesn't matter.
"I'm not the biggest guy in the world, but whether 5-10 or 6-4, as long as you keep the puck out of the net I don't think it really matters how big you are," he says. "A lot of that does have to do with competing. I hate to lose. I love to win and so does everybody on this team."
For the most part Mumaugh seems like an unassuming player, right down to his plain white goalie mask which he says he's always had. He also says that is about to change.
"Its being painted right now,"Mumaugh says of his first-ever painted mask. "Everything is done besides getting it to me, so you should see a painted mask soon. We're pretty fortunate here in Seattle that our equipment manager and general manger allow us to get painted masks, so I'm pretty excited."
Konowalchuk has not come out and named Mumaugh the No. 1 starter, but with the way Mumaugh has been playing it's going to be hard to take him out of the net. With the losing streak behind them Mumaugh and the rest of the team are ready to get back to winning.
"Every night we have to come out and play like our hair is on fire," Mumaugh said of the rest of the season. "We can't take anyone lightly. In this league everyone can win games. You just have to go out and be competitive and work hard. ... As a goalie you can't worry about being the No. 1 or No. 2 guy, you've just got to take your chances as they come to you, just focus on one game at a time and when you get your time in net, have to make the most of it."
So far Danny Mumaugh is making the most of it.
Seattle's next game is Friday at Vancouver before they return home to host the Portland Winterhawks.
Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide