Part of creating a winning environment is having teammates who get along with each other. In that regard, there may not be a more important area on a team than having the two goalies work in a cohesive partnership.
For the Ontario Hockey League's Owen Sound Attack, the pairing of Jordan Binnington and Scott Stajcer has worked well enough to lead them to the top spot in the OHL Western Conference.
Binnington, No. 7 on NHL Central Scouting's mid-term ranking of goaltenders for the 2011 Entry Draft, is a big part the Attack's rise. In 41 games, the 6-foot-1 3/4, 160-pounder is 23-12-4 with a 3.17 goals-against average and .894 save percentage.
"He's a good-size goalie with very good net coverage," Central Scouting's Al Jensen told NHL.com. "He has very good strength in his crease. His best asset is his positional play and net coverage. He has very good leg extension in his butterfly, and plays big even when in the butterfly, as he's able to stop shots with his shoulders and gloves while in the butterfly position. An area that Jordan could improve on is his lateral quickness, but it's getting better."
He's certainly had ample time to work on his game. Stajcer, a 2009 fifth-round pick of the New York Rangers, hasn't played since Nov. 20 due to a hip injury. The Attack added Michael Zador, a 2009 Lightning draft pick, to backup Binnington, but coach Mark Reeds has played Binnington like he's the full-time starter.
"We picked Jordan a couple years ago very high in the (OHL) draft knowing what he was capable of doing, and it's a matter of him continuing to grow as a player," Reeds told NHL.com. "He's had a couple setbacks, but generally he's a real competitor and if he has a bad outing, you talk to him about it and he bounces right back with a good outing. Him having an opportunity to mature and getting this opportunity is good for his development."
Binnington has enjoyed the surplus of playing time, which has included a coveted invitation to the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in January. Playing for Team Cherry, he stopped nine of 10 shots in his 30 minutes of action.
"It's given me a lot of experience," Binnington told NHL.com of his extensive game action. "My team has confidence in me. We got a new goalie, Michael Zador, he's a good mentor guy. And Stajcer is always there. He comes to all our games to stay with me and give me all the information he can."
In two seasons together, Stajcer and Binnington have made a very good tandem, with Stajcer willingly passing along his advice and Binnington listening to every word.
"Last year he saw me and what I do and that helps him out quite a bit," Stajcer told NHL.com. "This year, if I see things in his game, I'll suggest things and he's willing to listen and learn. He's great that way."
The relationship hasn't changed while Stajcer has been on the sideline. He had surgery on the hip in December and is just starting to get back on the ice.
"When you're in the stands as long as I've been you see certain tendencies or certain things, and I'll say something and help him out," Stajcer said. "Jordan and my relationship is really good. If I said anything (critical), I don't think he'd take it the wrong way."
Reeds pulled Binnington aside and told him of his quandary, but said his young netminder handled things like a professional, and stepped aside so Stajcer could play.
"He said I totally understand, coach, not a problem," Reeds said. "I said he could play until he lost and I've got to get Scott back in because he's being looked at for this (World Junior) opportunity. He (Binnington) took it all in stride and Scott the same way. (Scott) understands where Jordan is in his development. It's about internal competition amongst the players in the team. In a team environment you understand if guys are challenging each other in practice and challenging each other every day -- that's good competition. It's not selfish. They're both very good team guys and I think that's really shown this year."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK