SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Ben Scrivens says life is good.
The Bakersfield Condors goaltender wears eye black as he undresses in his locker room stall at Raley Field, the day before his team’s scheduled outdoor game against the Stockton Heat. It’s a time, in this trying season for Scrivens, to enjoy and look forward to.
It doesn’t take away the fact that Scrivens has quickly dropped down the Edmonton Oilers’ depth chart in the last year. The backdrop and scenic beauty of this ice rink at a minor league baseball stadium helps him better accept that his current place in the hockey world isn’t that bad.
“I always joke around with my family and friends back home that they can’t pity me yet,” Scrivens said. “I’ll let them know when they can.”
It’s hard for some to pity a professional athlete making $2.3 million per-season like Scrivens. But his fall has been so rapid that it’s confuses even him to some degree. Scrivens was sent to Bakersfield after he was beat out at training camp by Cam Talbot and Anders Nilsson – two goaltenders who weren’t on the Oilers last season. Laurent Brossoit has held the Condors' starting duties for most of the season.
“I thought I had a great camp and for a number of different reasons … at the end of the day I didn’t make the team and it is what it is, but to say there was a shock behind it is probably not fair,” Scrivens said.
So far this season, Scrivens has a 3.73 goal-against average and .885 save percentage in eight games for the Condors. A year ago he played in 57 games for the Oilers with a 3.16 goal-against average and .890 save percentage. Just a year earlier he had a 1.97 GAA and .931 save percentage with the Los Angeles Kings in 19 games and a .916 save percentage with the Oilers in in 21 games. A veteran of 129 NHL contests, Scrivens, 29, has never really been an elite starter, but he’s also at least proved he’s can be a capable backup.
Though Scrivens will be the first to admit he hasn’t played well this year, he wasn’t set up to succeed initially thanks to some issues beyond his control.
After he cleared waivers and was sent to Bakersfield, Scrivens couldn’t play for three weeks because of visa problems. Due to lack of action, he said he developed some holes in his game.
“After almost a month when you play one game, it’s really tough to stay sharp and keep that rust off,” Scrivens said. “Practices are – and it’s not here it’s every team I’ve played on – practices are usually pretty non-game specific I guess. You don’t have a lot of game realistic scenarios that come out of practice, so it’s tough to keep that going.”
Also, Scrivens had to get over the emotional shock of being sent back to the minors – a place he hoped he was done with after he signed his two-year, 4.6 million contract extension in 2014. In the month of December, he's regained some of his form with a .924 save percentage. On a Dec. 16 win, he stopped 44 Stockton Heat shots on goal.
“Obviously I didn’t do a great job personally. It’s something you learn off of,” Scrivens said. “I would do things differently in hindsight, but I had never gone through anything like that before. You just do the best you can and from those mistakes you learn lessons.”
Since he has been in the minors, Scrivens hasn’t been able to keep up with his mental health charitable endeavors. Last season, Scrivens wore a mask to raise awareness and money for mental health, and the Schizophrenia Society of Alberta.
Because of the unsettled nature of the minor leagues, Scrivens has found himself mostly focusing on what comes next on a day-in-day-out basis.
“I wish I could be doing a lot more,” Scrivens said. “It’s so hard because at this level there’s so much in flux, it’s hard to get yourself engulfed in any of the causes because you could be gone the next day or you can be injured or you can get loaned or traded or whatever. It has been difficult.”
Ask Scrivens about his wife Jenny, a goaltender for the NWHL’s New York Riveters, and he gushes. He’s thoroughly overjoyed that she gets to play in a league where she’s paid for her services.
“I get an extra little signing bonus for me. I get to spend a little bit of that money too,” Ben said with a smile. “It’s huge and the women’s game is just getting better and better every year. You always have criticisms from people who just don’t want to be fans, and that’s the unfortunate part is you have people from the outside say, ‘why should we care?’ And you go, ‘well, you care enough to comment on it so clearly you care.’ It’s a sport that has so much upside right now.”
While Ben would like to get back to the Oilers, a team that’s now in the playoff hunt, to show he belongs in the NHL, the goal is more short-term than long-term. First, he needs to pick up his play in the minors and then he can get another shot at the NHL level again.
“What’s in the past is water under the bridge,” he said. “You get a chance to play now and I had a couple of good games in a row, so I’ll try to string something together.”
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