A clearer head has prevailed for Jordan Binnington, which is why he's delivering winning goaltending in his final junior season.
The Owen Sound Attack goalie's potential has long been evident — top goalie in the MasterCard Memorial Cup in 2011, drafted by the St. Louis Blues that summer, in Hockey Canada's mix for the national junior team. The 19-year-old has looked much more self-possessed this season with the Attack, where he has a 186-minute, two-second scoreless streak heading into a first-place showdown with the London Knights. (Update: the streak ended at 211:56.)
"The model I go by is relaxed intensity," says Binnington. "You got to stay relaxed and patient but you have to stay intense at the same time, for when the shot comes, when you have to react. That's what I go by, relaxed intensity. Keep your shoulders back, let the game back to you. Jon Elkin, my goalie coach in Owen Sound, really enforces that."
Maintaining that state of mind amid a maelstrom of crease-crashing opponents poking away for the puck is easier said than done. Binnington is quick to credit teammates for his success, saying, "We got guys like Nathan Chiarlitti, [Zach] Nastasiuk, blocking shots and sacrificing their bodies like crazy. That's what you need to do on a championship team." There's also a little more to it.
'Got away from it all'
Binnington, whose 2.07 average and .936 save percentage in 20 games leads the entire OHL, says he was able to refresh himself by taking a break from the ice in the off-season. After attending Hockey Canada's goaltending development camp in June, he spent close to eight weeks away from the rink. That helped renew his gusto to play goal. Instead he caught up with family and friends in Gravenhurst, Ont., palled around with teammate Keevin Cutting and enjoyed his last summer as a teenager.
"I took a little bit of a break," Binnington says. "I stayed in the gym and didn't get back on the ice until late in the summer. Worked on legs, core, endurance mostly.
"I got a good pointer from [Hockey Canada goaltending coach] Ron Tugnutt, actually," he adds. "We were talking about the start of the seasons. He was saying how his workout would be walking the course. I took that and made my own thing out of it. He was implying that he stayed off the ice and just got away from it all.
"Getting away from the game in the summertime, it's been really good for me."
The Belleville Bulls' Malcolm Subban (2.35 average, .927 save percentage) established himself as the frontrunner to be Canada's starter in the world junior. The betting line favours Binnington, the Edmonton Oil Kings' Laurent Brossoit and Blainville-Boisbriand Armada's Étienne Marcoux, all in their 19-year-old seasons, to be the four goalies at the final selection camp. Canada will take a third goalie to Ufa, Russia as an injury replacement.
The battle to be backup may come down to Brossoit vs. Binnington. Each played twice in the Sudbway Super Series. Binnington was in goal when Russia ended its 18-game losing streak on Nov. 8 with two goals in 24 seconds.
'Lose sometimes to win'
The big takeaway from that is that it didn't gnaw at Binnington, at least not if you judge from his play. He also knows the goaltending is about contest living — they might be another chance. It's all part of his growth.
"I learnt that they [Russia] had some quick releases and great skill and are opportunistic, You have to lose sometimes to win. You have to learn from the experience."
Plus he gets more of a chance to prove himself with the Attack. His shutout string includes a 35-save bagel against the Kitchener Rangers, coached by Team Canada bench boss Steve Spott.
"It's in the back of your mind," he says of the opportunity with Team Canada. "You know if you perform at this level with your OHL team, that will contribute to how people look at you for Team Canada.
"It would be such a honour to get that opportunity to get that spot to battle for chance to go to the world juniors."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.