I can’t really explain what it was that made me fire up the video stream of last night’s Edmonton Oilers/San Jose Sharks game, but I’m glad I did, even if it meant a limited amount of sleep for those of us out East. If you don’t live in a hockey black hole, by now you know about Edmonton’s Ben Scrivens 59-save performance in a 3-0 win over the Sharks.
I got to know Scrivens pretty well during his time at Cornell when I was serving as that school’s hockey SID, and the public persona that he displays in interviews is the real thing. Anyone who’s worked in hockey knows players who are very different when the cameras are turned off. That’s not Ben, and that’s why it’s so great to see him getting his moment in the spotlight.
Scrivens’ performance – and the ensuing recognition – got me thinking about how few awards he received during his time at Cornell, despite being one of the best goaltenders in the country for three straight seasons. Once he became the Big Red’s starter early in his sophomore season, he never finished lower than fifth nationally in save percentage, and was never lower than seventh in the country in goals-against average, yet he only once (as a senior) earned first-team all-league honors and the Ken Dryden Award as ECAC Hockey’s top netminder. Neither of the goaltenders who were deemed “better” than him in ECAC Hockey during those years are still playing.
For certain, the lack of recognition came from Cornell’s reputation as a goaltender factory, but that’s selling Scrivens short. He isn’t some late-bloomer; his numbers are remarkably consistent throughout his career. The goalies that immediately preceded him – David McKee, David LeNeveu and Matt Underhill – played behind defenses that featured future NHL blueliners Douglas Murray and Ryan O’Byrne. That’s not to say the goaltending trio that came before Scrivens wasn’t any good, but more that the defenses he played behind – while still featuring some good players – weren’t quite of the same quality.
For his part, Scrivens has earned everything he’s gotten. He didn’t come into Cornell anointed as the next great thing, but rather earned his playing time by getting results. Playing as part of a platoon as a freshman, he took the starter’s job three games into his sophomore season and never relinquished it. Once he left Cornell, he worked his way up through the ECHL and into the AHL before getting a shot with the Maple Leafs. Nothing’s come easily, and through it all, he’s always showed the same humility, crediting his defense for clearing pucks and blocking shots (even when they still let 59 through on goal).
He’s always had his doubters, especially during his time at Cornell when he was deemed a “system” goalie. When he’s gotten an opportunity to show what he can do, he’s shined; the more he plays, the better he looks. Yet there’s still talk for Edmonton to sign him as a backup and pursue an established number one (even during last night’s intermission!!), which begs the question: how do you get to be a number one if you aren’t given a shot? Scrivens is finally getting that shot with Edmonton, and last night’s performance shows he’s not going to let this opportunity go by without a fight.