Canadian NHL teams well represented in net at All-Star weekend

St. Louis Blues' Jordan Binnington wins the save streak competition in front of the hometown crowd, with a total of nine saves in a row.

ST. LOUIS — For David Rittich, a trip to all-star weekend amounts to a dream come true.

"If you’re going to look back four years ago, no one even from you guys knew my name and right now I’m standing right here in St. Louis and we’re doing all-star media," he said. "I’m not a guy who could expect to be in the all-stars and be somebody like that."

For Connor Hellebuyck, this is about affirmation for the work he’s put in.

"It’s blissful. You have that moment of ‘I’ve done something and I’m going the right way,"’ he said. "It’s more encouragement that all of the hard work up to this moment is now showing and now you know you’re going on the right path and you’re not just guessing any longer."

For Jacob Markstrom, this is the reward for a difficult season where he’s managed to find a clear mind on the ice.

"It’s humbling and it’s an honour to represent Vancouver here," he said.

For Frederik Andersen, this is an overdue acknowledgement about his place in the game.

"It’s not a single goal I have [to be an all-star], but in a way it is because I want to play well and I want to be a goalie that’s deserving to be here," he said. "These things are just extra bonuses that come along the way if you do well."

Four goaltenders that control the crease in Canadian markets and earned a place among the league’s best. Four that will have a large say in where these Flames, Jets, Canucks and Maple Leafs seasons ultimately end up.

Only Hellebuyck had previously been selected as an all-star — in 2017-18, during a season where he finished second in Vezina Trophy voting — and the Winnipeg goaltender believes he’s currently at an even higher-level right now.

"I just feel way more in balance and patient," he said. "I just feel on top of my game a lot more and I feel way more consistent."

Markstrom’s all-star season arrives with Vancouver surprisingly on top of the Pacific Division and pushing for a playoff berth for the first time in five years. Not only did he lose his father, Anders, to cancer in November, he’s currently playing in the final year of his contract and facing the possibility of unrestricted free agency.

Still, he’s found some solace in the game.

"I don’t talk about, I don’t think about it, I just play hockey," said Markstrom, when asked about his contract. "The most important thing for me is to have a clear mind when I step on the ice and just try to maintain that."

When he spoke with reporters on media day here, a ringing phone briefly interrupted the scrum. Markstrom reached into this pocket: "Oh my god, sorry. It’s my mom. She just landed."

It’s an exciting time for a 29-year-old who has spent parts of seven seasons in Vancouver. It’s been a journey for both he and the organization and finally it feels like bigger things on the horizon.

"It’s never fun to be in a rebuild process," said Markstrom. "As a goalie, too, it’s frustrating — you want to win hockey games. It’s frustrating for every guy on the team, for the coaches, for the fans and for the city, too. Now we’ve kind of got a little flash. People are excited around town and at the rink it’s super exciting.

"You definitely want to be part of something in a Canadian market and be a successful team."

Rittich is the sort of guy who never seems to have a bad day. He signed with Calgary as an undrafted free agent out of the Czech League in 2016 and is among the busiest goaltenders in the league this season with 36 starts already.

Given his unlikely path to the NHL’s showcase event, he was in a reflective mood after making his way to St. Louis.

"I’m proud of myself and I’m proud of everyone who helped me here," he said.

In case there was any question about what this meant for Andersen, he had artist David Gunnarsson paint a fresh mask with fellow Maple Leafs and Atlantic Division All-Stars Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner on it.

He plans to keep that in his personal collection afterwards.

Even if Saturday night’s all-star 3-on-3 tournament is likely not going to be a venue to show off his best work, he’s thrilled to get the chance to experience it first-hand.

"I think everyone knows it’s not really made for goalies," said Andersen. "Just enjoy, have some laughs and take it in.

"These are memories you get for life."

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