RICHMOND HILL, Ontario — Jordan Binnington left his hometown for St. Louis Blues training camp in September as the No. 4 goalie on the depth chart.
Ten months later, he returned home on top of the hockey world, a local kid done good whose perseverance to never give up was embraced by an entire community.
There Binnington was first thing Friday, posing with the Stanley Cup in front of a sign that welcomes people entering the city just north of Toronto. Beneath the words “City of Richmond Hill, Population 208,000” was a recently added message that said: “Home of Stanley Cup Champion, Jordan Binnington.”
“That’s me, baby!” he said, hoisting the Cup and wearing a wry grin.
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It’s a smile that wouldn’t leave his face all day. Why would it?
Consider Binnington’s past few days:
On Wednesday, he was in Los Angeles for the ESPY Awards, where the Blues won Best Comeback after going from last in the NHL on Jan. 3 to becoming the first team to win the Stanley Cup after being last in the standings at least 30 games into a season.
He followed that by celebrating his 26th birthday Thursday. His best gift: being able to share the Cup on Friday with family, friends and Richmond Hill residents whose belief in him never wavered.
“It’s been a wild week,” Binnington said. “And I’m just trying to stay in the moment about it.”
Binnington, whose first NHL start was a 3-0 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 7, was 24-5-1 with a 1.89 goals-against average, a .927 save percentage and five shutouts in the regular season. He became the first rookie goalie to win 16 games in a single Stanley Cup Playoffs.
He was known for being calm, cool and reserved during the run to the Cup. He was anything but that Friday.
Normally stoic, Binnington unleashed his emotions during a morning parade in Richmond Green Park. He yelled out whoops of joy and pumped the Cup over his head while he and girlfriend Cristine Prosperi rode in a convertible past hundreds of children who waved blue and yellow balloons in honor of the Blues.
Richmond Hill Mayor Dave Barrow then presented Binnington with a key to the city. Three-time world champion figure skater Elvis Stojko (1994, 1995, 1997) is the only other athlete to receive that honor.
“I heard through the wire that the town of Richmond Hill was backing me along the way, and that means a lot to me,” Binnington said. “Bringing people together and having a positive influence on a community like this is very special to me.”
So, too, is the Vaughan minor hockey program in the Greater Toronto Hockey League. Binnington was part of it for seven years, first as a member of the Vaughan Rangers, then the Vaughan Kings.
When the festivities at Richmond Green Park ended, Binnington brought the Cup to The Sports Village, the arena complex where he grew up playing. By giving current members of the Kings a chance to get photos taken with the trophy, it was Binnington’s way of saying thanks to the organization.
All the while, a couple of his former coaches were fighting to wipe tears from their eyes.
When an 8-year-old Binnington wanted to move from forward to goalie, Rangers coach Mike Vallescuro gave him his first competitive tryout in the crease. The kid didn’t flinch when the first shot he faced nailed him in the head.
“That’s when I knew he’d succeed at the position,” Vallescuro said. “But to this extent? I mean, it’s still surreal to see him there posing with the Cup.”
David Franco, the head instructor at the Franco Canadian Goalie School, nodded in agreement. He has worked with former NHL players, including Curtis Joseph, and spent countless hours teaching Binnington in this same arena. Now he was watching all their hard work come to fruition.
“When Jordan was a kid and I started working with him, he’d cry if he let in a goal. That’s how competitive he was at keeping pucks out,” Franco said. “Now I’m the one welling up at seeing how far he’s come.”
On this special day, he wasn’t the only one.