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Hochman: What I miss today about sports — Blues goalie Jordan Binnington

Hochman: What I miss today about sports — Blues goalie Jordan Binnington

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Winnipeg Jets vs St. Louis Blues

Winnipeg Jets center Jack Roslovic shoots as St. Louis Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson defends and goaltender Jordan Binnington stretches to cover the goal during the Feb. 6 game at Enterprise Center. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

He does this thing.

He’s in the goal crease, his face hidden inside his mask, and after a close call or a big save or even just a stoppage in play, Blues goalie Jordan Binnington will quickly stick his neck forward and pull it back. Perhaps it could be classified it as a neck “turtle?” It happens really fast, maybe it’s a calming mechanism after some on-ice chaos? Or just an old habit. But for Blues fans, it’s also a signal — it’s Binnington motioning: “I got this.”

Perhaps I’ll ask him about it next time I see him, but of course not sure when that’ll be and, furthermore, Binnington isn’t the most sharing of pro athletes. In a way, that’s how his legend grew. He was sort of mysterious. This Roy Hobbs who showed up. His postgame interviews — and pregame interviews, and after-practice interviews — sort of became a shtick. The goalie purposely saying and revealing as little information as possible, while still complying and answering the reporter’s question.

What we did learn, famously, is that he’s not nervous. And then he proceeded to go from fourth-string goalie to carrying a team to the playoffs (with absurd statistics), then winning all 16 games to claim the Stanley Cup. In Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, he played stupendously on the stage. In retrospect, it stinks that he allowed that lone late goal. Imagine the lore of a shutout in that game?

He did, though, make that great save that should be a statue some day (with about 11 minutes left and St. Louis up only 2-0, Binnington outstretched his right leg on the ice to stop a Joakim Nordstrom shot, while Binnington’s torso lunged forward. Just amazing).

With the National Hockey League on pause during the coronavirus pandemic, I miss watching Binnington play. And especially after his little rough patch earlier this year. Since the crazy, 6-5 loss at Vegas on Feb. 13, Binnington went 6-3 with a .929 save percentage (for perspective, the season leader in save percentage in the NHL was Anton Khudobin at .930). And for the season, Binnington is third in the NHL with 30 wins.

Oh, and Jake Allen is playing like, well, he was paid to play. The big-contract former No. 1 goalie is having a stellar season as a No. 2. He’s fourth in the league this season with a .925 save percentage. Much is made about the Blues' lockdown defense this season, and the rise of David Perron and Robert Thomas offensively. But goodness gracious, these goalies!

Binnington has famously showed more personality during fun moments off-ice, be it the victory parade or on Instagram. Perhaps the best peek into Binnington, though, came on the ice after Game 7. During the celebration, I briefly interviewed his girlfriend, the Canadian actress Cristine Prosperi. Had it truly sunk in to him what this all meant to the people of St. Louis?

“Yeah, we talk about it all the time, just how important this is for the city, and how he doesn’t want to let the city down,” Prosperi shared. “That he just wants to make them proud. The community has been so amazing — they’ve been behind him and supporting him, and we’re just so happy to bring the Cup back for them. ...

“I mean, it’s crazy. Just to put it in the magnitude that we were in San Antonio (in the minors) at the beginning of the year. And now we’re in the Stanley Cup Final and we won the Stanley Cup. I’m just so proud of him, he has worked at this his entire life, he has dreamed of this.”

And now, St. Louis must wait for another dream to come true — and the dozens of Binnington breakneck saves and neck turtles along the way.

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