The kid they call “Binner” has made them feel like champions all over again.
Jordan Binnington’s cinderella-story reached its cinematic climax June 12 in Boston as the lanky goaltender raised the Stanley Cup high overhead.
Just eight years after he lifted the Robertson Cup with the 2010-11 Owen Sound Attack as a 17-year-old backstopping the club to the franchise’s only Ontario Hockey League championship.
“He left us on top of the world,” said Owen Sound’s long-time goaltending coach Greg Redquest.
And then he entered the world of pro hockey. The world of pecking orders, big-money decisions and cutthroat competition where big-time talents become turnstiles and temporary placeholders.
That’s exactly where Binnington found himself this past September at the St. Louis Blues training camp. A fourth-string goaltender practicing with the reserves and sent to the American Hockey League after one period of exhibition play.
The summer before that camp, Binnington was in Owen Sound for the city’s sports hall of fame induction ceremony. The championship Attack squad was enshrined, and some of the players made their way back to the Scenic City for the party.
Andy Brown, the Attack’s head athletic therapist and equipment manager, remembers talking to Binnington about his career at that time.
“He wasn’t happy. But it didn’t change him. He just talked about needing one chance. I just need a break, he would say. A chance to prove himself,” Brown said.
The route to his chance was long and brutal. It started in the ECHL with the Kalamazoo Wings, a third-round pick with potential and time on his side. After 40 games with the Wings he was bumped up to the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves – one rung left to the big-time.
He played well for the Wolves, but a move to bring in goaltender Pheonix Copley crowded the crease. The next season Ville Husso entered the picture. The Blues’ fourth-round pick in 2014 was targeted as the team’s up-and-comer and Binnington was told he was going to have to head back to the ECHL to get some playing time.
He said no.
A clause in his contract forced the Blues to find Binnington a place to play in the AHL. He went home for two weeks and was then told to pack his bags for Providence. St. Louis had loaned the 24-year-old to the Boston Bruins farm club.
“He played lights out,” Redquest recalled. He remembers texting Binnington while he was on the bench at the AHL all-star game.
But his performance under the umbrella of another organization didn’t mean much at that point.
“It was frustrating for him. He would play one every three games. He is leading the league in goals-against, but Boston isn’t going to develop a St. Louis goalie,” Redquest said.
Redquest remains close with Binnington and his family. He recalled thinking this last training camp with the Blues would be a chance to at least showcase for other teams. If it wasn’t going to work out in St. Louis there were now 30 other clubs who may give him his shot.
The last stop on the journey before St. Louis and Lord Stanley’s Cup was in San Antonio. Binnington forced the Rampage to start him over Husso with his play in goal, and with some familiar faces behind the bench, he had a fighting chance.
Drew Bannister was hired as the Rampage’s head coach in the summer of 2018. He brought with him Daniel Tkaczuk to serve as an assistant. They both served as assistants behind the bench in Owen Sound when Binnington was named the league’s best goaltender in 2013.
“If you got confidence in your coach, and they have confidence in you, you’re lights out. That’s 100 per cent of the game right there. If you trust people you’re going to go through a wall for them,” Redquest said.
In St. Louis the sky was falling. In last place, and falling fast, the Blues brass looked to San Antonio for a goaltender to make a mid-season appearance.
The rest of the story played out in primetime.
“He went up there and never looked back. His first game he got a shutout and just never looked back,” Redquest said. “Binner didn’t give them a chance . . . and he made them all look good.”
Joey Hishon watched game seven with family and friends at his home in Stratford.
“I was losing my marbles,” he said. “I honestly just couldn’t stop laughing. It was such a surreal feeling and just so much excitement for him.”
Hishon was the star of the Attack when Binnington came on board. Armed with a quick wit and quiet confidence Hishon, Brown and Redquest all said the goaltender was someone people gravitated to between games and before the team’s biggest moments.
“He’s not really fazed by anything,” Hishon said. “I talked to him after and he said this is absolutely crazy, but I think when he’s in the moment I don’t think he feels like it’s game seven of the Stanley Cup finals.”
Redquest watched game seven at home. He thought about making the ten-hour drive to Boston, but eventually decided against the idea.
“So if I cried no one would know,” he said. “I am just so proud of the kid.”
Redquest can call-back almost every save in the first period as Binnington was shelled by the Boston Bruins, but kept the puck out of the net. He’s coached, trained, partnered and golfed with the goalie. He may know his on-ice habits better than anyone.
“You watch his eyes. He knows where everybody is on the ice at all times,” he said. “You’ll never see them beat him in the same place twice. He fixes it in his mind. Nothing bothers him . . . I could bag skate him and he wouldn’t sweat . . . he’s got a chip on his shoulder and he wanted to prove something. And he’s got a swagger.”
Dale DeGray took Binnington in the second-round of the 2010 OHL draft. Nine years later he was fielding questions from 2019 prospects and their parents about the Blues storybook goaltender taking the hockey world by storm.
“It’s out there, and certainly everybody knows,” DeGray said. “I always liked him because he was quiet between the pipes . . . he went from post-to-post and that was all he needed to do. It wasn’t like he was playing in a soccer net.”
As Binnington’s profile grew on the sport’s biggest stage Attack fans cheered as loud as they did when he was still wearing the black-red-yellow-and-white and playing in the Memorial Cup.
“It’s all part of that Owen Sound mystique. Their true love and desire of the players that come through,” DeGray said. “It’s hard to describe until you’re there and a part of it. I know it sounds corny but it’s special.”
Hishon was there, and he was a big part of it.
“I think it’s pretty special. I honestly don’t think – I know for a fact – it doesn’t happen like that in other places unless you’re Corey Perry or the superstars in other places,” he said. “In Owen Sound, once you’re with the Attack you’re never really forgotten.”