MONTREAL—Ben Scrivens is getting a chance to keep his NHL career alive with the Montreal Canadiens.
It’s a chance that seemed out of reach on the eve of the regular season after the Edmonton Oilers parked him and his $2.3 million salary in the AHL with the Bakersfield Condors.
At the time, it was a bitter pill for the Alberta native to swallow.
“I was hoping it wasn’t going to play out that way, but the writing was kind of on the wall,” Scrivens told Sportsnet in an interview Jan. 9. “It’s a business. What can you do about it?”
What Scrivens did was accept the decision, but his transition back to the AHL—after appearing in 129 NHL games over the past four years was anything but smooth. After waiting three weeks for an American visa to be granted, in October and November Scrivens was forced to share the net with a pair of 22-year-olds who the Oilers were more concerned with developing: Eetu Laurikainen and Laurent Brossoit.
In limited action, Scrivens went 0-4, allowing 18 goals in sporadic starts before December hit.
Playing sporadically in the minors only weakened his chances of returning to the NHL.
“They were definitely trying times down there for me, personally,” said Scrivens. “But I tried to be a good teammate and do what I could to help the team when I was around.”
In the two weeks leading up to Christmas, Scrivens’ game showed signs of life. As the level of his play rose, he started to entertain the possibility another NHL team might be interested in his services.
On Dec. 28, the Montreal Canadiens turned that possibility into reality by sending forward Zack Kassian to Edmonton in exchange for Scrivens.
Despite the fact that he’s yet to win with his new team, Scrivens has already made a good impression in Montreal.
Members of the Canadiens organization have lauded his work ethic, and head coach Michel Therrien said Scrivens was excellent in recent 27-save losses to the Florida Panthers and Philadelphia Flyers.
As a result, Scrivens has rebuilt some of the confidence he had lost earlier this year in the AHL.
“I definitely feel I can still play,” he said. “I think I have the talent level to do it.”
Scrivens’s chance to prove it is being extended by at least two weeks with Canadiens starter Carey Price unable to return from a lower-body injury before Feb.1.
The challenge is for Scrivens to beat out rookie goaltender Mike Condon as Price’s back-up. The 29-year-old Scrivens’ previous experience might give him the upper hand, especially when dealing with the pressure that comes with playing in a hockey hotbed like Montreal.
“I was fortunate, I cut my teeth in Toronto,” said Scrivens. “Obviously it was a similar market in Edmonton; Canadian city, high expectations, spotlight on you away from the rink.”
Scrivens, who has the nickname “The Professor” stitched to the sides of his pads, is also wise enough to avoid the type of controversy that’s easy to come by in a city where he knows he won’t go unnoticed in plain clothes away from the rink.
“I think I’m fairly equipped to handle the extracurricular around Montreal,” said Scrivens. “You can’t be an idiot at the bar, can’t be doing things that maybe you could get away with in a different market.”
You also can’t make right-hand turns on red lights within the city’s limits, which was something Scrivens admitted he was thankful to be informed of before the Montreal police had the opportunity to ticket him for the offence.
Outside of that, Scrivens hasn’t had too many other adjustments to make since landing with the Canadiens.
He’s accustomed to living out of a suitcase, having left most of his belongings in Edmonton before shipping off to Bakersfield. That familiarity is serving him well as he’s taken up residence in a downtown hotel for the time being.
Scrivens is also quite used to being on his own.
“I don’t have any kids or anything like that,” Scrivens said after noting he’s only seen his wife, Jenny, a goaltender for the NWHL’s New York Riveters, twice this season. “With Jen playing in Brooklyn, it’s just me. I’m the only one I have to answer to and take care of around here.”
But answering to new coaches and integrating with new teammates is a challenge that can only be met over time.
“I’m still a bit of an outsider looking in,” Scrivens said. “You’re trying to fit in as best you can. So hopefully I can create a few more bonds and hopefully that can lead to more wins.”
If it does, Scrivens, who’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in July, can begin to consider an NHL future beyond this season.
That’s much more than he could’ve hoped for earlier this year.