ECHL: A Talk with Atlanta Gladiators’ Goalie Gustavs Davis Grigals

Photo Credit: Taylor Trebotte for Inside the Rink

On March 8, 2024, it was announced that Gustavs Davis Grigals had secured a two-way, one-year contract with the Nashville Predators for the remainder of the 2023-24 season. For any professional athlete, especially those striving to reach the NHL, such an achievement represents a significant milestone in their professional careers. As a writer and a hockey enthusiast, I must acknowledge the extensive dedication and sacrifices that have not only nurtured the growth of these players and their teams but also have influenced their character far beyond the confines of sports. An exemplary individual embodying these qualities commendably is Gustavs Davis Grigals.

In anticipation of my meeting with Gustavs, known by many fans as “Goose”, I not only researched his professional hockey career but also delved into his collegiate background. As someone who works in higher education at Georgia State University, I was immediately struck by the impressive academic and athletic profile of this young athlete who holds numerous accolades, both in his athletic career and academically, while pursuing his undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Though the regular season will be wrapping soon for Atlanta, for Gustavs Grigals there is still plenty of hockey left yet to play. Once the season with Atlanta concludes, the goalie will head up to Milwaukee, along with some of his Atlanta teammates, to assist the Milwaukee Admirals who have punched their ticket to the post-season and will be in the hunt for the Calder Cup.

COLLEGIATE CAREER

Gustavs graduated with his Bachelor’s degree in Business and Administration at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and had been named to the Dean’s List. He would later earn the Chancellor’s Award in 2021 for students receiving a 3.9 grade point average or higher. Grigals earned the WCHA Scholar-Athlete Award that year, which honors student-athletes with a 3.50 grade point average or higher. In 2022, he was selected as Warrior of the Month (March) where he “had assisted at Sunday practices, goalie clinics, and he has even refereed a couple of games when needed”. 

During his time at UMass, the netminder finished the 2022-23 season with the sixth-ranked save percentage in the nation and seventh-ranked goals against average, in addition to being named a 2023 Hobey Baker Award nominee.  He was also selected for the Richter Award Watch List in January 2023 by the Hockey Commissioners Association (HCA). The Richter Award is bestowed upon the premier goaltender in NCAA Division I men’s hockey and has been given on an annual basis since 2014. Connor Hellebuyck, a former River Hawk and current Winnipeg Jets goalie, stands as the inaugural recipient of this prestigious recognition.

When I met with Gustavs, I asked him about his time at both Alaska-Fairbanks and UMass, his recent contract signing with Nashville, as well as his time with the Atlanta Gladiators.


SIGNING WITH THE NASHVILLE PREDATORS

Zehner: I don’t know if you got a chance to read any of the articles that were written after your signing with Nashville but I wanted to share some of what was said, as both of your former coaches had some awesome things to say. Coach Eric Largen from the University of Alaska Fairbanks said, “It’s great to see a recent former Nanook achieve an opportunity at the highest level of professional hockey.” Your UMass Lowell Head Coach Norm Bazin stated, “I’m really excited for Gustavs, he has earned the second contract and we wish him well. He adds to an impressive list of UMass Lowell goalies to sign and play in the NHL – Hellebuyck, Hutton, Roloson, Boyle, Fankhouser, and Wall to name a few.”

What does it mean for you to hear your former coaches that you’ve worked with at that level now see you go on to this next step in your career, and be able to hear some of those things that they have said about you?

Grigals: It’s great. I mean it’s always nice to be recognized by your hard work and who can tell it better than someone who works with you, the coach, or even the athletic trainers. So yeah, it’s great. Every time I hear something good from my team’s former or current coaches, it’s great. Especially if it goes out public, it gives you kind of a little confidence or something like that. But for me it’s always the work, it doesn’t stop there. You’re always proving yourself. Always proving yourself.

GIVING BACK

Zehner: While you were in your undergrad, I noticed that you did a lot of volunteer work. You actually helped a lot of younger kids in particular and did a goalie clinic with them a couple times. How important is it for you to work with kids at that level to try to get them into the sport and help them?

Grigals: I really like to work with kids and show how I see everything because I remember myself being that young guy and looking at whoever was growing up, for me it was always the national team goalie from back home. Even when I go back to Latvia, you know, around May or June, I participate in the goalie camps and it’s just, just great to see little goalies that want to learn and after a week of doing something, they do it better.

I like it a lot, and for me it’s always about helping, helping out. I don’t really like expect anything from it, I just want to give something.

I’ll give a stick away. I try to always communicate with them [equipment managers] on that but yeah, I really enjoy that. Hopefully, I can also go back to Alaska and do some goalie camps. I’ve been talking with people about it, but we’ll see how the season goes.

Zehner: Have you had a chance to do anything like that here?

Grigals: There’s a guy named Austin Kaiser. He works in Nashville. He works with young goalies there, and then sometimes he comes down to work with the Atlanta Phoenix goalies. So once, I didn’t have much time, I just kind of went over there and talked to the goalies. I told them that I wanted to go on the ice with them at some point if we had time. That’s the only thing I’ve done so far.

Zehner: It must be really hard though with all your training, games, and being on the road to be able to squeeze that in. It’s impressive that you actually still have that in the back of your mind, that you want to try to do that for those kids. That’s something I definitely want to commend you on doing.

Grigals: I mean we have the best job in the world. We’re at the rink three or four hours a day and then of course there’s travel and everything, but if there’s a time that works with me and with them, then yeah, I’m all for it.

Photo Credit: Taylor Trebotte for Inside the Rink

FAMILY

Zehner: Do you get to go home very often during the season, or no?

Grigals: No, not at all, especially now.

Zehner: Is any of your family here or are they all back home [in Latvia]?

Grigals: They’re all back home. They’ve never been to the U. S. or at least not my mom and dad. I really want them to come and see me play here.

Zehner: I was just going to ask if they ever had a chance to come and get to see you play.

Grigals: No, actually last year was the first time in six seasons that they saw me play live. We went to Belfast in Northern Ireland with UMass Lowell. We played two games there and they actually came, my whole family came and watched me play, which was impressive. I want them to experience the U. S. and see how it is here. I remember, when I came for my first season here, it was very different.

LANGUAGE BACKGROUND

Zehner: I read that you speak three languages.

Grigals: Yeah, Latvian, English. I would say two and a half now since I’ve been here. I used to speak Russian and I still kind of understand it, but not so much since I haven’t been able to talk to anyone or pick it up. I’m trying to learn more. I’m trying to learn some German, took German for seven years, but it’s hard when you don’t live there. Same with the English. When I came here to the U. S. I didn’t really speak very good, and it didn’t come to me as easily as it does now.

Zehner: I heard you helped a lot of your teammates who needed a little bit of help with language barriers when you were in your undergrad too.

Grigals: Oh, in Alaska? Yeah. Yeah, we have lots of Latvians, so I, you kind of have to, I was the oldest guy, and I was the longest guy there, so we had to help each other out. That’s how it is.


PLANS AFTER HOCKEY

Zehner: What do you want to do when you get done with hockey? Which is many, many, many years away by the way.

Grigals: I’ve been thinking about that a lot. Even last year when I was doing my MBA, I wanted to do a finance-based MBA because there were not a lot of people that wanted to do that. The class that I signed up for, there were only three or four people signed up for it, so they canceled the class and I ended up not pursuing finance. I don’t know, maybe get into asset management. This year I’ve been more into like looking at this, that type of stuff, asset management, stock trading. Also, I would like to try to do something with psychology. Maybe get a major or an undergrad there too.

When I went in my freshman year of college, I was thinking about it. I wanted to do my undergrad in psychology but I was too scared. Language wasn’t there. I mean, I’m looking forward to doing it now, with the program with the PhDA, I was really looking forward to trying to move myself in that direction even, either here or back home.

Zehner: Do you think you would ever get into coaching?

Grigals: Never say never. I don’t know. I was thinking about it. I’ve been thinking about that too. I don’t think I could do it. I would like to do it at the college level for sure. Maybe like at a higher level. I could help out with the with kids or with young hockey players but right now I can’t see myself really fully into coaching.

If I’m lucky enough to have kids who want to play hockey, I would, of course, try to do as much as I can for them. Right. Maybe, you never know, like, I could always become a coach.

Zehner: You could always do a little bit of both. The college advisor in me is going to say that is something that you might want to think about.

Grigals: There’s a lot of coaches back home, and they’re good, and so, it’s kind of a tough environment to get in, you know.

Photo Credit: Taylor Trebotte for Inside the Rink

A QUESTION FROM THE FANS

Zehner: I’m going to ask you a little bit of a silly but fun question, as this was a hot topic on Facebook the other day. There was a really cute video posted of a young goalie who was dancing in the net. It was in between plays, and the player was just, you know, jamming out. This sparked a discussion between fans about who on the team would win a dance-off. So, if you guys had to do a dance-off in between intermissions, who would win?

Grigals: That’s a really good question. Dance off, on the ice? I haven’t seen a lot of guys dancing. That’s a hard question. Like, I don’t know. No idea. Anyone could surprise me.

Zehner: I think you’ve been caught a couple of times singing.

Grigals: [laughs] Yeah. People have been reminding me of doing that.

Zehner: Which I absolutely love. I think that is the coolest thing, you out there just trying to have a bit of fun and the fans seem to really like seeing that. Okay, so just between you and Josh, who would win?

Grigals: Josh.

Zehner: Okay, why do you say that?

Grigals: I think he can move better than me.

Zehner: I don’t know. I might beg to differ. I’ve seen you both make some crazy saves in the net.

Grigals: [laughs] I don’t know. It would be a tight battle.

Zehner: Alright, what would the song be?

Grigals: Actually, I could do anything. I love ABBA. I like Frank Sinatra, but you don’t dance to that. I would probably put David Guetta. If I need to dance for the people, they would get “Titanium”, let’s say.


FINISHING STRONG

Zehner: Goose, you’ve had an impressive year [with Atlanta]. Honestly, some of the saves that you’ve made have just been jaw-dropping. When you’re looking at going into these last couple of games this season, what’s your mindset now?

Grigals: I feel like it’s just finishing strong. You’re strong because you never know who can be in the stands or who can watch your games. Also, just playing for the fans. They’ve been so good to me all throughout the year. There are people in the stands coming to see you, you have to perform, you can’t just take a night off or something like that. That’s a really good motivational aspect of it.

I would say that, and of course, play for yourself. I just want to play good for myself, and every day is an opportunity to play hockey. You have to prove yourself every day, and you’re only as good as your last game. If you end the year in a bad way, I don’t think that’s good for you going into summer. You just have to play, and do your best, and you never know what can happen.

Zehner: Do you beat yourself up a little bit if a goal gets past you?

Grigals: I wouldn’t say right away. Not right away. I used to do that. I used to be really hard on myself. Like, ‘Oh, why did I do that?’. Now during the games, I don’t. I just do it after the games and analyze and try to see what I did good or bad. Try to go back, and get past it, and go to the next game.


Photo Credit: Karen Zehner for Inside the Rink

TRAINING

Zehner: I noticed before games you do a couple of different things to get ready. I’ve seen you do some hand-eye coordination work and it was recently mentioned that you do the Virtual Reality. What are you doing when you’re using the VR?

Grigals: There’s this app or software called Sense Arena. Which is goalie-specific drills or goalie stuff. I did it last year in Lowell. It really helps you with just seeing shots. It’s kind of a little bit different. You feel like you’re cheating the game a little bit where you get the shots before even it matters the most.

There’s real-time, real shooters. They’ve been recorded. Real NHL shooters or these robots that have this year. They updated it so that they look like real players and you have to read the releases and stuff. Which really helps with your confidence. If you don’t get on the ice before the game, you can wear it. That’s really helped me.

Zehner: And you’ve only been doing that the last couple of years?

Grigals: I did it last year a little bit. And now, actually, I got it a month or so ago here. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. And then I was struggling a little bit. So I was like, okay, let’s try this out. It’s really helped me with just getting my confidence back and getting to see different stuff.

GAMEDAY MINDSET

Zehner: What are you guys possibly thinking as far as your game plan against Orlando?

Grigals: Of course, we have to keep playing our game like we did last night. We played actually, I thought, really good. Really good. Of course, we deserved to win. But team-wise, we’ve been playing way better than we did maybe a month ago, which is great. Just improving our game and you can see the guys are really coming together and winning the season in the right way.

Zehner: One of the things I do admire about you and the entire team is that like even with last night, up until the very end, to the very last play as the buzzer is going. You guys are fighting for every single second. I think sometimes that gets lost because sometimes people will see just what the scoreboard says and they don’t see how much you guys fight for every little bit. How important is it for you in particular to know that you guys keep doing that consistently? Because that’s something I’ve seen throughout the entire season. I know some may disagree with me on that, but how important is it for you to make sure that you guys are doing that every single game?

Grigals: It’s really important, like in the locker room in general, there’s no quit. We have no quit in us, so that’s something that is important for the next game, or for the person himself, that there’s no quit. You can look at the guy on the right and the left and you know that he’s not quitting, so why should you?

And yeah, even against Toledo when we played and we scored with 20 or whatever seconds left, we still had a chance to tie it up. Which is in some way frustrating because we’re so close, but then you don’t get it. At the same time, it’s good for us because there were games that we lost by, I don’t know, like four goals or something like that, which we definitely have no chance of winning there.

I think it’s a good morale boost for us and if the fans can see that, they’re still in the building until the last second. I think for them it’s something that engages them and they are following with their whole heart. I think it’s amazing. They’re sitting on the edge of their seats.

I think it’s good for the group in general. Just fighting till the end and you never know what can happen. We’ve seen last-second goals in every sport, every game.

Zehner: Before we wrap up, is there anything else that you want to tell the fans?

Grigals: I just want to just let them know that we appreciate their support and what they do for the team. That goes also to the Booster Club which helps us with everything that we need – the apartments, the food, and stuff. Just thanks for all your support. We appreciate it a lot.

Photo Credit: Taylor Trebotte for Inside the Rink

Karen Zehner

Credentialed Beat Writer covering the ECHL Atlanta Gladiators. Diving into the world of slap shots, penalty kills, and the game we love. [@RunwithK] on socials

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

DeBrusk Scores Twice in 5-1 Victory, Kampf Scores Lone Leafs Goal | 4/20/2024

In game one of the playoffs for the Maple Leafs and Bruins on Saturday, April 20th, the Maple Leafs fell behind 5-1. The Bruins came in with a strong start and ended with a great 5-1 victory to begin playoffs. David Kampf scored the lone goal for Toronto, Jake DeBrusk scored two goals and Johnny […]

Read More
Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Florida Panthers Playoff Preview

It’s the best time of the year. The 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs are here. For the Tampa Bay Lightning, this is the seventh consecutive season that they have made the postseason. Last season was their only first-round exit in the current run, as they fell short in six games to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Entering […]

Read More

ECHL Central Division Semifinals Game 2 Recap: Toledo Walleye vs. Kalamazoo Wings | 04/20/2024

The Kalamazoo Wings played against the Toledo Walleye in Game 2 of the Central Division Semifinals on Saturday night. The game took place in a packed-out Huntington Center in downtown Toledo, Ohio, and the Wings were hoping to level the series at 1-1. The Wings had lost 3-2 in overtime in Game 1 on Friday […]

Read More