TORONTO - It was only 20 months ago that Ben Scrivens was taking classes at Cornell University.
Now he's being subjected to an education of a different kind after being thrust into the Toronto Maple Leafs crease during a period of uncertainty with the team's goaltending. Even though the undrafted 25-year-old was never a hotshot prospect, veteran Cornell coach Mike Schafer isn't the least bit surprised to see him playing under the bright lights.
"He had all the pieces of the puzzle for someone to make a quick rise," said Schafer, who has sent a number of players to the NHL in recent years.
Scrivens started attracting attention during his final two seasons at Cornell. The native of Spruce Grove, Alta., captured the Ken Dryden Trophy as ECAC goaltender of the year after finishing his senior campaign with a 1.87 goals-against average and garnered interest from a number of NHL teams.
He was drawn to the Maple Leafs because of goalie coach Francois Allaire—Scrivens attends his hockey school in Switzerland each summer—and began his first pro season with the ECHL's Reading Royals last fall after signing a free-agent contract.
Like James Reimer before him, Scrivens made a rapid progression through the organization. With Reimer injured and Jonas Gustavsson struggling, he's started three of the last four games for the Maple Leafs and is a good bet to get the call against Ottawa on Saturday night.
Scrivens has shown flashes of brilliance—making 38 saves in separate wins over Columbus and St. Louis—but was also pulled against Boston during his first start on home ice last weekend. These are still early days and the organization is anxious to see how he handles the adjustment to the NHL.
"He's a talented athlete," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said after Friday's practice. "What he's got to go through is the experience of playing in this kind of market, dealing with the sudden fame and attention. That's hard to deal with if you're (used to) Cornell, where not a heck of a lot is going on. ... This is entirely different.
"There's no school you go to how to handle a crush of media and attention. You can't go anywhere and get that."
For his part, the affable Scrivens seems to have taken the entire experience in stride. When he struggled against the Bruins and in a relief appearance against Florida, he willingly accepted blame for the bad goals that got past him.
While the time at Cornell might not have provided him with media training, there's little doubt it helped contribute to his development. Scrivens studied Hotel Administration at the Ivy League school and made an impression on many in the small city of Ithaca, N.Y.
"Even when he was here at Cornell, he'd be the consummate pro," said Schafer. "He had the ability to focus in on playing hockey and his school work. One of his strengths is Ben is very well grounded, I mean he talked to everybody—great with kids coming out of the locker-room, people in the community, doing community service.
"He's got the whole package."
The timing of the current opportunity couldn't be much better for Scrivens. Both he and Gustavsson have contracts that expire after the season and each is essentially vying for the chance to share the crease with Reimer next season.
Somewhat amazingly, Toronto is off to a 10-5-1 start despite the rotating cast in goal. Reimer, the incumbent No. 1, started six games before being lost to concussion-like symptoms Oct. 22. With him out, Gustavsson has made seven starts and Scrivens three.
The game against the Senators will reunite Scrivens with Colin Greening, his teammate at Cornell for four seasons. Other NHLers who have played at the school in recent years include Islanders forward Matt Moulson, Sharks defenceman Douglas Murray and Avalanche defenceman Ryan O'Byrne.
Scrivens spent two years in the Alberta Junior Hockey League before going to the NCAA and credits parents Wayne and Dawna for helping him achieve his goal. They visited Toronto earlier in the week and spent some time reminiscing about the journey over dinner.
"Their approach has always kind of been hands off," Scrivens said of his parents. "Any time there was arguments and stuff about ice time and this and that, they don't claim to be experts and they sure weren't going to tell someone else how much ice time I should be getting.
"It was definitely a great environment for me growing up playing because there was no pressure within my house, it's not like they were saying 'NHL or bust' from the day I stepped on the ice."
Now that he's done that, there are plenty of people pulling for him.
"Ben comes from a great family and he just kept getting better and better and better," said Schafer. "It's a tough position to break into the NHL—there's only (60) spots—so it's a tremendous accomplishment for him."