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Three goalies, no problems for Owen Sound

by Bill Hoppe /

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. -- Jordan Binnington smiled and moved his head slightly. The Owen Sound Attack goalie wanted to give someone a better glimpse of an upper lip with some serious peach fuzz.

"Do you not see my moustache?" Binnington, NHL Central Scouting's No. 3 North American goaltender in its final rankings for the 2011 Entry Draft, joked Saturday morning prior to his splendid 29-save shutout in the Attack's 5-0 win against the Kootenay Ice in the MasterCard Memorial Cup here at the Hershey Centre.

Binnington, the lone Attack player sporting a smooth face during the postseason, then tugged at a few tiny hairs on his chin. He claims he last shaved about 75 days ago.

Naturally, teammates mock Binnington, especially the Attack's other two goalies, Scott Stajcer and Michael Zador.

"Stajce and Zade, they're just kind of rude," Binnington said.

But it's all in jest. The three are tight.

Three-goalie systems rarely work, but this one has succeeded. The friendships have helped the Attack's odd situation, something coach Mark Reeds jokingly called "Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster," the title of 1964 Japanese film about a three-headed dragon.

"We all got to get along," Binnington said. "We can't get down on each other. We're all just pretty much pushing each other and all working hard practicing, encouraging each other, which is awesome."

Zador added: "We're definitely all close because we're pretty much all going through the exact same situation. We've got each other."

Incredibly, each goalie played a significant role in the Attack's run to the Memorial Cup.

Binnington went 27-12-5 with a 3.02 goals-against average and .899 save percentage in 46 regular-season games and was the starter for the playoff opener against the London Knights. However, after allowing 15 goals in four games and with the series tied 2-2, Zador replaced him for Game 5. He shut out London in the next two games, but was pulled after allowing three goals on 20 shots in two periods in Game 1 of the second round against the Plymouth Whalers. Stajcer replaced him and stopped all 14 shots as the Attack won in overtime, and took over the starting job for the final three games of the sweep of Plymouth, and then started all five games in defeating two-time defending league champion Windsor in the conference finals.

He started the first two games against the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors in the OHL finals, but after getting shelled for nine goals in losing the first two games, Reeds went back to Zador, who won Games 3 and 4 to even the series. But after watching Zador and Stajcer beaten for a combined seven goals in Game 5, he went back to Binnington for Games 6 and 7.

The 17-year-old was excellent, stopping 66 of 70 shots as Owen Sound won back-to-back 3-2 games in overtime to capture the league title and earn a berth in the Memorial Cup.

"We've had three real quality kids, and the professionalism they've all shown throughout the playoffs as far as teammates, they support one another," Reeds said. "That's a difficult situation I think sometimes for teenagers to be in. If they wanted to be an individual, they should play golf or tennis."

How did the Attack get to this point? The 19-year-old Stajcer, a 2009 fifth-round pick of the New York Rangers, underwent hip surgery in November. With Stajcer’s status unclear, the Attack acquired the 20-year-old Zador, a 2009 fifth-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, from the Oshawa Generals to pair with Binnington.

Stajcer, who signed with the Rangers earlier this week, eventually returned, creating the odd situation. If one player began pouting, the situation could have become toxic. Instead, the three have forged closer relationships.

Binnington and Stajcer hit it off last season, Binnington's first in the OHL. They are, however, fierce video game rivals. Stajcer and Zador have trained together during the offseason, so they already felt comfortable around each other.

"Whatever works for our team is the right plan," Stajcer, who was a healthy scratch for the third straight game Saturday, said. "I mean, if I'm not dressed this tournament and we win, I'm just as excited as anyone else."

The situation probably has worn more on Reeds than the goalies.

"I think it's tougher on him than it is for us," Stajcer said. "All three of us obviously want to play every game. But when he names the starting goalie, we're happy and comfortable for our team. We all can get the job done."

Nonetheless, Reeds acknowledged he doesn't "want this situation again."

"It's something we've had to deal with and we've tried to go about it in the best way for us to be successful," Reeds said.

Binnington was at his best Saturday during the second period, stopping 15 shots, including a left pad save when Kootenay's Cody Eakin, a Washington Capitals prospect, roared in. Eakin then got knocked into Binnington, and the goalie stayed on the ice several moments.

"I just needed a little break, a little breather," Binnington said.

He might not get another break in net if he keeps stopping everything. Reeds had remained tight-lipped about his starting goalie, but he finally notified Binnington with a text message Saturday.

"I don't normally get shutouts, so it was pretty exciting when the buzzer went," Binnington, who has just one shutout in two OHL seasons, said.

Reeds added: "That's what we expect from all our goaltenders when they get the opportunity to play. We expect them to make the best of their opportunity."

Robby Mignardi scored twice for the Attack. Florida Panthers prospect Garrett Wilson, Roman Berdnikov and Andrew Fritsch also had goals.

The only rough moment for the Attack came with 5:35 left in the game, when Kootenay defenseman Brayden McNabb, a Buffalo Sabres prospect, elbowed 37-goal scorer Joey Hishon, the 17th pick of the 2010 Draft by the Colorado Avalanche, in the face, earning a five-minute elbowing major and a game misconduct. The play will be reviewed and McNabb could face a suspension.

Hishon did not return to the game, and Reeds had no update on Hishon's condition after the game. Owen Sound next plays Monday, against Saint John.

Binnington knows a strong Memorial Cup performance would enhance his Draft stock. He's not thinking much about that, though.

"If I focus on this first, then the Draft will figure itself out," Binnington said. "I'm just drawing what's in my control."

Binnington has a different control, one for an Xbox he claims he uses to "easily" beat up on Stajcer in the "NHL 11" video game.

"He likes to lie," Stajcer said. "He thinks he's better. When I go over to his house, he has all the players on his team boosted and all of mine are all the way down. He kind of cheats, and I still beat him. If we were to have a regular game, even game, I'm sure I'd kill him about 10-0."

What's Binnington's reaction to Stajcer's bold claim?

"What a guy, what a goalie partner," he said. "(He) tells me his goaltender's lying? I think we're going to have to have a showdown or something so I can prove to everyone that I'm the champion."

All three goalies could be CHL champions soon.

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