It was almost exactly a year ago, in preseason, when a young goaltender came in, played parts of two games and, by the numbers, outshone the two netminders who had a lock on jobs with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
That goalie was James Reimer, an unheralded fourth-round draft pick who stopped 26 of 28 shots, good enough for a .929 save percentage that was better than that of Jean-Sébastien Giguère (.913) or Jonas Gustavsson (.902).
Reimer still ended up going to the minors after training camp, but by midseason, he began to take over in goal, eventually earning the No. 1 role and a three-year, $5.4-million (U.S.) deal in the summer.
A year later, Ben Scrivens is hoping he can write a similar Cinderella story.
“What Reims did last year was a big confidence boost for me,” Scrivens said. “It shows that anything really can happen.”
While his profile remains low, Scrivens sits third on the organization’s depth chart after he put up impressive numbers in the minors and climbed from the ECHL to serve as Reimer’s backup briefly in the NHL last year.
His play even caught the eye of Leafs coach Ron Wilson, who said this week he wants to give the undrafted former Cornell University star from Spruce Grove, Alta., “a really good look” in preseason.
“He played so well last year in the American league,” Wilson said. “We were confident that if anything happened, we could use him.”
So while the Leafs goaltending situation may appear set with Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson both under relatively new, one-way contracts, there’s room for Scrivens to play the unlikely hero if either of those ahead of him falters at any point during the year.
“I’m just trying to make everyone have to make a difficult decision about me,” said Scrivens, who allowed one goal while playing the second half of Toronto’s 4-2 preseason win on Monday over the Ottawa Senators. “I’m hoping my play is good enough to earn something, a call-up here or whatever.”
For Scrivens, 25, even playing for the Leafs in an exhibition game feels a world away from his time in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, where he was an all-star only five years ago before heading off to Cornell.
He and his fiancé have become close friends with Reimer and his wife, which has helped to ease that transition, as he now has a fairly good idea of what awaits should he continue to have success in the minors.
Even if he still can’t quite believe he’s this close to an NHL job.
“I don’t want to say I’m in awe that I’m at this point – I worked hard and I think I’ve put in a lot of time,” Scrivens said. “But if you would have told me when I was in college, if I thought I would have made it this far, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.”