Robb Hunter speaks with AJHL Alumnus and Edmonton Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens about his journey through the AJHL and onto the NHL.
Story By Gord Montgomery
For some hockey players the road to the NHL isn’t all paved with golden opportunity. No, for some the road is bumpy and filled with detours.
One of those who had a tough time making it to the top was Ben Scrivens, now a member of the Edmonton Oilers who played for three different teams in the AJHL before he merged onto the highway to success. In fact, his road was so full of potholes he got only one game in with his first junior A team, the Drayton Valley Thunder, and was a on-again, off-again back-up in Calgary before putting things into gear in his final junior hockey stop in Spruce Grove with the Saints.
Recently recognized as one of the AJHL’s top 50 players over 50 years, Scrivens said he never expected to make the big leagues but at the same time, never gave up trying to advance his career.
“It’s was a bit of a suitcase,” he said of his early days in the AJHL. “I was in Drayton for maybe a month but ended up taking a shot off the finger that kind of exploded it. I was out for about three weeks and when I came back the game I played wasn’t my best,” and as a result he was released in favour of Scott Gudmundson (that season’s rookie of the year in the AJHL) and Pat English, both of whom went on to NCAA careers.
Scrivens then used a family connection, Matt Scrivens, to wind up in Calgary with the Canucks. “I think he put in a good word for me, and they needed a back-up, so I ended up finishing the year with them.”
During the off-season, Ben was traded to the Saints and that was where he began to make his mark as a goaltender. He fashioned a 27-12-3 record there and as luck would have it, through his hard work he landed an offer from a U.S. college (Cornell) where he would play for four years.
“I think I was tagged to be their guy (in Spruce Grove) but you never take anything for granted,” he noted. “The thing is, it could have gone either way dependent on how I played and the team played in front of me. It was one of those things where all you can hope for is to be presented with the opportunity and then make the most of it.”
“I picked Cornell because that was the best educational opportunity that was presented to me. I never planned on playing more than a dozen college games in my career. I don’t want to say that was my chance to ‘steal’ an education, but get my degree using hockey as a conduit, was great. After that, it would be onto the working world.”
As it turned out this is where his life in hockey began to change from never having made a major rep team as a minor hockey league player to becoming a rising NHL star. Once in college, Scrivens played 119 games over four years for the Big Red and was a finalist in the running for the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s top player. The thing is, this again wasn’t all smooth sailing for the goaltender walking into camp as a freshman.
He played only a dozen games in his first year. In his sophomore year Scrivens lost the first game he played so he was replaced by his counterpart for the second game.
As luck would have it he too lost so Scrivens replaced him for the season’s third game where he won. And the rest, as they say, is history.
After his college career Scrivens signed as a free agent with the Toronto Maple Leafs and played for the Reading Royals in the ECHL and then moved up to the Toronto Marlies in the AHL. He finally made it to the NHL with the Maple Leafs before being traded to Los Angeles and then finally to the Oilers where he’s become an instant sensation with the club and its loyal fans.
“I definitely consider myself very fortunate,” said the goalie who has already set an NHL record for the number of shots stopped, 59, in a shutout for the Oilers. “I played (pro) hockey to put off the working world, put off the real world for a year or two. I’m fortunate the way things have worked out. There was a lot of luck that went into it (along with determination, effort and skill), the right person sees you on the right day and that opens the door to an opportunity.
“(This journey) definitely wasn’t an easy, first-round draft pick thing to get into the NHL spotlight,” but one of the AJHL’s top players over its 50 year history has shown that you don’t have to play major junior hockey, and be a star from the start, to become a star a few years later.