Sun Nov 06 04:25pm EST
I 12 months or so Jordan Binnington has gone from Owen Sound Attack goalie of the future to the present to goalie of the future — again.
The way it was supposed to work on the shores of Georgia Bay this season was that Binnington, the 18-year-old St. Louis Blues draft pick, would be the unquestioned No. 1 goalie for the Attack. Stacjer, like most signed 20-year-old draft picks, would be cutting his pro teeth in the New York Rangers organization. Instead, ever since the Rangers returned Stajcer to the OHL early last month, it's been a near-reprise of the three-headed monster from last May, when the pair and since-departed Michael Zador all started in the OHL championship series.
"It's surprising that he [Stajcer] came back here with the talent that he has," says Binnington, the top goaltender of last spring's MasterCard Memorial Cup who has a 3.83 goals-against average and .877 save percentage for a younger Attack team this season. "I guess you could say it's not what I really expected this year. But I'm just going to keep working through it and not complain or anything, because no one is going to feel sorry for you.
"The positive is I can learn a lot from Scott and hopefully he can learn something from me," the personable Richmond Hill, Ont., native adds. "We just push each other to become better. If that keeps happening it will pay off in the end. It's hard right now, but we're both doing what we can and trying to stay positive.
Last spring, then-Attack coach Mark Reeds kept the media in suspense — and in stitches — when he changed goalies more often than most of us change socks.
Stajcer was the man until a November hip injury that led to surgery sidelined him until the second round of the playoffs. Binnington played the bulk of the regular-season games with Zador also taking starts, then taking over early in the playoffs after the Attack went down 2-0 to the London Knights in Round 1 (Owen Sound won the series in six).
At the Memorial Cup, Binnington and Stajcer seemed at ease with the potentially awkward situation, remaining poker-faced when asked on game days who was starting. That was supposed to be a thing of the past this fall. But the fact Stajcer lost nearly all of his age-19 season to rehabbing his repaired hip led to him spending an extra year in junior. Cue both putting on a happy face.
Stajcer, with a 2.54 GAA and .922 save percentage in seven games, has met expectations for a 20-year-old goalie. He has allowed more than two goals in only one of his past five starts.
"I was disappointed to get sent back but I love Owen Sound," he says. "I've been there so long. As far as adjusting, it's just a much slower game [in the OHL compared to the AHL or NHL]. Playing a couple games right away helped a lot. I'm feeling a lot more comfortable with my new teammates and my new coach [Greg Ireland].
"Jordan's a great young goalie," Stajcer adds. "He's got a long future ahead of him. I'm pretty sure Greg's comfortable with either one of us in net."
It's early yet, so one shouldn't get too drawn into comparing the two goalies' numbers before each has even played 10 games. Plus Stajcer is two years older. Binnington also acknowledged it's the be-all, end-all for him to play 40-50 games, noting, "If I can't learn something from playing with Scott, then something's wrong."
The Attack, who are 9-10-1-1 after shading the lowly Kingston Frontenacs 5-3 on Sunday, are not expected to contend in the OHL's Western Conference. Now that Jack Campbell is on the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Stajcer is probably the most accomplished older goalie on a below-.500 team.
"Whatever happens, happens," Stajcer says. "It's definitely not the worst thing if I stay here."
Meantime, both relate that Ireland's been more traditional about informing his goalies which one is in the barrel for the next game. Reeds, now an Ottawa Senators assistant coach, would often maintain that he didn't name his starting goalie until the absolute last minute. There's no guessing game with Ireland.
"Mark was a pretty funny guy, he'd let us know in a different way," Binnington says. "Greg lets us know the night before the game and it's been working so far."
Granted, just as neither goalie will betray whether he's chafing at the situation, maybe Reeds was just having people on last spring. Stajcer flashes a cryptic smile when asked how Ireland handles his two goalies who surely both want to start.
"Maybe Mark's a little more in the dark with [the media] than he was with us. Greg's handled it very well this year, too."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: OHL Images).