MISSISSAUGA — Mark Reeds has an unscientific way of determining who will play goal for the Owen Sound Attack on any given night.
“Normally, we just go by their numbers — 31, 35 and 40,” Reeds, the Attack coach, said with a smile on Friday morning. “And we just keep rolling.”
If only it was that easy. Three-goalie systems are about as popular as a National Hockey League team in Atlanta.
But where Reeds readily acknowledged he would rather have the usual starter/backup combination, there’s no arguing with what he called “the three-headed monster” and where it has helped take the Attack.
Each of Jordan Binnington, Scott Stajcer and Michael Zador played a significant role as the Attack won its first Ontario Hockey League title. Binnington, the youngest of the three and the only one who can’t grow a proper playoff beard, won Games 6 and 7 of the OHL final against the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors and was named the Canadian Hockey League goalie of the week. Stajcer had eight wins in 13 playoff games and Zador was 4-0 in seven post-season appearances.
It’s safe to presume that Binnington, ranked No. 3 among North American goalies in central scouting’s final rankings for the 2011 draft, will start on Saturday night at the Hershey Centre. As much as Reeds has three capable performers at his disposal, it would be bizarre for him to tap someone other than Binnington for the Attack’s first game of the 2011 Memorial Cup, against the Western Hockey League champion Kootenay Ice.
“I did not tell anyone specifically, but they have a pretty good idea of who is going to start,” Reeds said. “We have three quality kids, and the professionalism they have shown throughout the playoffs has been tremendous.”
It wasn’t the intention of the Attack to have a crowded crease. Stajcer began the 2010-11 season as the starter and was backed up by Binnington, who was being groomed to be the No. 1 guy next year. But Stajcer required surgery on his left hip in December after wear and tear left him unable to play, and the Attack found themselves with Binnington and another youngster, JP Cesario.
Reeds and Attack general manager Dale DeGray didn’t want to leave the club short, so Zador, a Tampa Bay Lightning prospect, was acquired from the Oshawa Generals. Binnington then got the majority of starts and won 27 games, more than any other 17-year-old goalie in franchise history. Zador was a sharp option, compiling a 9-2 record after heading north. Meanwhile, Stajcer recovered at home in Cambridge after his operation at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and then continued rehabilitation in Owen Sound.
Stajcer, who signed an entry-level contract with the New York Rangers on Thursday, returned not long after the playoffs started.
Here’s the bonus: All three of the goalies genuinely like each other. A situation that could have become toxic hasn’t come close to that. There was a joke circulating in the dressing room that the team would order an extra large Attack sweater and cut out three holes for heads. That chemistry doesn’t happen if there is acrimony.
“If Jordan plays the whole tournament, I’ll be ecstatic for him,” Stajcer said. “We’re just happy for each other. It might be a bit strange, but it has worked out well for our team.
“I respect (Reeds) a lot. He has been good to all three of us. If someone is not playing well, he can throw any of the three of us out there for a boost.”
If Binnington indeed gets the call, he could benefit. A strong overall performance at the Memorial Cup would enhance his draft position.
“It has been hectic,” Binnington, a native of Richmond Hill, said of the season as a whole. “My two goalie partners — that sounds funny — help me and give me the confidence I need. I know whoever starts will be ready. We want it all.”