January 7, 2019. Jordan Binnington makes his NHL debut.
Almost five months later, the Richmond Hill, Ontario native continues a magical run --- backstopping the St. Louis Blues to the Stanley Cup final.
Binnington’s breathtaking rise includes a St. Michael’s College School alumnus quietly at the core.
“It means a lot because I understand and have had a first-hand look at what he's gone through over the last couple years and how he's developed his game and developed as a person on and off the ice. He has taken all kinds of strides,” says Andy Chiodo, an SMCS graduate, Class of 2002, who has been Binnington’s goalie coach.
The pair met at the gym inside the SMCS arena in the summer of 2016. Both were training with Matt Nichol, founder of BioSteel, and a strength and conditioning coach to many professional athletes.
MOULDING RAW TALENT
Binnington, a third-round draft pick in 2011 spiraled in both junior and the minor leagues for more than four years. That is until he met Chiodo, a goaltending development coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.
“I saw a guy two years ago who was really talented, really raw and needed to take steps, and he really did the work to do that. And he's been in a pretty great place ever since,” says Chiodo, whose own work ethic Binnington has credited for greatly impacting him.
“He had been a great junior goaltender and on a number of occasions in the American League he had performed really well. For him, it was a matter of putting it all together,” Chiodo continues. “When you see him raw, you see him at a young age where there's all kinds of growth to be had and you know that if he improves his work ethic in the gym and structure in his life and everything from the way he practices, the way he prepares, to his lifestyle, couple technical aspects of his game --- when he puts those things together he's going to have a real chance to be an NHL number one goalie.”
That January 7th evening, at the age of 25, and in his NHL debut as a member of the St. Louis Blues, Binnington shut out the Philadelphia Flyers. A few days later, the Blues plummeted to dead-last in the NHL. Five short months later, the Stanley Cup is within their grasp.
Chiodo, now 36, and himself a former NHL goalie, drafted in 2001 by the Islanders in the sixth round, takes quiet pride in helping Binnington reach his potential.
“What we had from the beginning was a mutual respect and trust I think that's so important and we fed off of one another. He is pretty open with me which made the coaching relationship really strong because he was open about areas he wanted to improve and I was open and working together through asking powerful questions and being on the same page and we were able to get places as a result. I think that was so important,” says Chiodo.
A few on-ice tweaks to his game helped Binnington’s confidence, Chiodo says. “His talent level was incredibly high. His skill set was great. He has been good for a couple years. Everyone else is seeing it now but he was really, really good last year as well, and now it's just on a different stage, at a different level.”
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
A Toronto resident who played with the OHL’s Toronto St. Michael’s Majors from 2000-2003, Chiodo returns to the arena at SMCS in the off-season.
“It's a familiar place that I have so much respect for and has been a big part of my life for a long time. I've never been able to leave. Coming back to the parking lot every day and seeing my old teachers who have become friends and being around the rink at a place where I played so many junior games, and for me to basically have spent 20 years of my life coming around here --- it's pretty special and I feel very grateful to be doing it,” says Chiodo.
As for Binnington’s meteoric rise? Chiodo says this about his star pupil.
“I think he's where he belongs. From him, there was a deep-seated belief that he's a national hockey goaltender,” says Chiodo. “You can't map this stuff out, but you can map out how hard you're going to work, how much you're going to prepare, how focused are going to be, how much you're going to care, the sacrifices you're willing to make and you could put your head down and work and work and work until your game goes to such a high level, and then from there the sky's the limit.”