Wisconsin junior and Ottawa Senators prospect Brian Elliott is having a phenomenal season. He was named a Hobey Baker finalist as well as to the WCHA All-Second Team. Elliott has a 26-5-3 record that includes a nation-tying best eight shutouts. He leads the nation in virtually every goaltending category, including goals against average (1.57), save percentage (.938) and winning percentage (.938).
Elliott spoke with Hockey’s Future just before practice on Friday at the Bradley Center.
HF: Congratulations on the win against Maine yesterday. How does it feel?
BE: It feels really good. Having today off gives it a little time to stink in and allows us to refocus and just know that it’s a big game and it’s what we’ve been working for since the beginning of the year. It feels good, but we know that we have one more to go and that’s what we’re really focusing on right now.
HF: One of the things that I noticed at the end of the game is that you guys were pretty subdued in your celebration. It seemed like you guys were happy with the win but you guys aren’t there yet because there’s still one more tomorrow night against Boston College. Is that approach that you guys took going into last night’s too?
BE: Yeah. It wasn’t as close as a typical game like that would have been. We kind of knew that we were going to win. It was just getting through that last couple of minutes. As soon as the guys came over and patted me on the head, the only thing they were saying was one more, one more win. We all knew what we had to do, I wasn’t worry about guys celebrating too or that guys were thinking that game was the championship because it wasn’t. It’s really good for us to know that everybody is all on the same page and we’re all ready to go tomorrow night.
HF: Let’s go back a little bit to that great game against Cornell. It seemed like it went on forever. Were you excited as well as relieved that it finally ended?
BE: Yeah (laughing). The overtime periods actually seemed a lot faster than the rest of the game. I don’t know why. The 20 minutes just went by so fast. Getting that goal in the third overtime was just unbelievable. It was just a big relief to be able to get out of there, sit down and realize that we’re on our way to Milwaukee and we have a couple of weeks until then. Then again, everybody was celebrating but they were all saying two more wins as well. You knew that everyone was on the same page back then too. The senior leadership has been great and they know how to get the young guys going. They know what it takes to get there.
HF: Earlier in the season you had missed some time due to a knee injury. How difficult was that for you, especially watching the team struggle the way they did in your absence and not being able to get in to help out?
BE: It was tough. It’s always hard, even when you’re just sitting on the bench watching the guys. I went through that for two years. I knew how hard it was. Being up in the stands, I couldn’t even get the guys going. You can’t say anything to spark them or give them some tips on where to shoot. It was tough sitting up there. It was one of the hardest things that I’ve had to do. Shane (Connelly) did a great job coming in as a relief. That was one of his first college games. Coming in, especially against Minnesota and Denver, they were tough series. I think we did a good job of handling that pressure when it was all said and done. We escaped that period in the season not too badly. We kept ourselves in a pretty good position, especially coming into the NCAA Tournament to get that No. 1 overall seed.
HF: Do you feel that that was one of the defining moments in the season since it seemed to bring the team closer together and stronger?
BE: I think it was after the Minnesota State series, where we struggled in all aspects of our game in my first game back that was the turning point of our year because after that we decided as a team where we wanted to go for the rest of the year. We started off great and then that midseason struggle that we’ve also had in the past few years and we didn’t want that to happen again. We were able to pick it up at the end of the (WCHA) playoffs and now we’re playing our best hockey of the year near the end of the year and that’s what we wanted to do all year.
HF: When you were out with that injury, what were some of the pointers in helping the team that you were giving Shane?
BE: He’s played in front of big crowds before having played with the U-17 program. So he knows how to handle the pressure. I really didn’t have to say too much to him because the guys were all helping him out. I just said that we’re doing this as a team. No matter who starts, as goaltenders we have to do this as a team and just need to support each other. I think he kind of just loosened up after that and got into a little bit of a groove and won a couple of games. I think that was really good for him. Come next year, I think he’ll see more of him. When I leave, he’ll become a great goaltender in my relief.
HF: In watching you throughout the season, one of the things that I’ve noticed about you is that a lot of your game is mental. Would you say that that’s one of your greatest attributes?
BE: Yeah. That’s the whole game of goaltending. Being able to stay focused and staying patient throughout the game is one of the hardest parts about the game. One of the things you have to be able to do is not to get too high or too low, whether you get scored on or your team scores a goal. That’s really what I try to do. I try and stay on an even keel throughout the game. I kind of have to be that way because I’m going to be searching through screens three or four times when the pucks are at the points. I have to be focused for the whole time. One little let up can obviously cause a goal. So that’s what I try to strive for in my game and that’s what Bill Howard, my goalie coach, teaches as well. Someone told me that goaltending is 90 percent mental and the rest is all in your head.
HF: You’ve been so consistent all year long. In watching you throughout the season, it seems like you’re always and completely in the “zone” and just shutting out everything else.
BE: Yeah, I think that’s what all of the guys do. I hear the crowd but I don’t even see them. As a goaltender you have to just kind of [block] the crowd out otherwise you’re liable to make too many mistakes. It’s something that you want to achieve in every game. If you get to that level then you know that you’re on because you’re seeing the puck better, everything kind of slows down and you’re anticipating plays a lot more. You see pucks a lot more too. It is a cliché, but when you’re in that zone, you play better. That’s the key to start every game. Just facing a couple of shots just to get the feeling going and get into the groove helps me get my game started.
HF: Do you consider yourself methodical? You seem to be very calculated in your movements and you don’t move for the sake of just moving.
BE: Yeah, that’s what all great goaltenders do. They reduce their movement because when you move first, the shooter has the advantage. I want to make sure that the shooter makes the first move and I’m just reacting to that shot. The hardest part is staying patient and just controlling your movements. All of the goals that go in are usually because you beat yourself and moving too fast. I just try and slow everything down, and let my reactions, quickness and size take over. That’s the toughest part but it’s what I have to do to stay successful.
HF: What do you feel is your best attribute?
BE: I don’t know, I just like to stay mentally in the game. All of the guys in the dressing room know that. They know that I have confidence in myself and they have confidence in me back there.
HF: So it sounds like your confidence is your greatest attribute.
BE: Yeah, I guess so.
HF: Getting back to yesterday a bit, obviously you have to keep your mind in the game, but it’s got to feel good to have such a raucous crowd constantly cheering behind you guys?
BE: It does but it’s obviously different for a goaltender. It feels great. I have to try and shut it out otherwise I’m prone to making mistakes. When you hear that “let’s go red,” chant it just gets everyone pumped up and the guys just feeds off of that. Especially since it’s like a home atmosphere here.
HF: From the press box, it felt like being in the Kohl Center East.
BE: Yeah (laughing).
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