Q&A with Dan Ellis

By Holly Gunning

Dan Ellis was a second round pick, 60th overall, of the Dallas Stars in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.
He played his college hockey with the University of Nebraska-Omaha and signed with the Stars in the summer of 2003, forgoing his senior season.

The 23-year-old rookie split time between the ECHL Idaho Steelheads (23 games), the AHL Utah Grizzlies (18 games), and the Dallas Stars (1 game) this year, making his NHL debut on February 18th against Los Angeles. He won the game 4-3, stopping 25 of 28 shots.

Idaho Steelheads Head Coach John Olver commented on Ellis’ hectic season.

“He’s had a bit of a difficult season, he’s moved to so many teams. He played with us, then he went to Utah, then came back to us, then to Utah again, then up to Dallas, back to Utah. It’s hard on a player to play with so many different teams in one season. Since he’s come back here, he’s played extremely well for us. He’s picked up where he left off. He’s been solid as a rock for us in goal in the playoffs.”

No question about that. Going into Tuesday’s game, Ellis had a 6-1 record including two shutouts, along with a 1.57 goals against average and a .944 save percentage.

Asked what he thinks Ellis needs to work on to make it in the NHL for good, Olver said, “I don’t think there’s any one thing, I just think he needs to play a lot and continue to get more experience. He just needs to continue to mature.”

Hockey’s Future spoke to Ellis following the Steelheads’ 5-3 win over the Gwinnett Gladiators in Game 1 of the ECHL Western Conference Finals.

HF: You’ve had kind of a whirlwind season, how would you say it has gone overall?
DE: I think it was definitely a learning season, I think that’s the biggest way to look at it. Playing in three different leagues in three different cities, it’s a lot of travel, you don’t know where you’re going to be week to week. Living in hotels for eight weeks. It was difficult. But like I said, it was a learning experience, and it’s how you handle those situations that you’re in and how you deal with those, and how you bounce back from adversity.

HF: How was the adjustment coming from college to the pro game?
DE: I think the biggest thing that I’ve done since college is just relax a lot more, enjoy it a lot more. It’s your job. You’re not a student anymore. You could be at a desk job, but you’re not, you’re playing hockey for a living. Just try to enjoy every single minute of it. You never know when it’s going to end. You just want to make the most of it while you’re out there.

HF: Any surprises turning pro?
DE: Not so much. I try to surround myself with different professional athletes in the summers and stuff. I’m in contact with my agent almost every day. He keeps me updated on things to expect and I just try to surround myself with people I can learn from.

HF: This year was your first Dallas training camp, how did that go for you?
DE: Dallas camp was unbelievable for me. My first camp, first time throwing on an NHL jersey. I was extremely happy, excited, a little bit nervous at times. But same thing, I just want to go out there and show them that I can do it at the professional level. I wanted to go out there and give it my very best effort.

HF: Any funny stories from camp?
DE: None that I can really think of. Aaron Downey was the most humorous of the bunch. I think that was the funniest part of the whole thing, just listening to him. Trying to get ready for a game and he’s talking a mile a minute, telling jokes non-stop. He’s a sincere person and fun to listen to for sure.

HF: Did they give you any instructions when you left camp, things to work on?
DE: I think the biggest thing they wanted me to do was just play games. Get in as many games as possible, get experience. Go out there and try to learn from different players, from Turco and Tugger, from Cash and Smitty at the AHL level, and from Blair Allison down here. Try to surround myself continuously with people who can kind of show me the ropes, teach me what to expect and try to pick up a few good habits here and there.

HF: Has Dallas’ goaltending coach helped you a lot?
DE: They have Andy Moog, he used to play for the Stars. He’d call me once a month or so and we’d also work with him about once a month while I was in Boise. They would fly me to Utah about once a month or so and it would just do goalie drills, pretty much all week. I’d be there for practice, if they were playing I’d stick around and get a little extra work with Mooger. And basically it was just a lot of leg conditioning, simple movement. He just wanted to see how we stop pucks in different situations. He just offered advice in different areas if we need it.

HF: Talk about your NHL debut, how did it go?
DE: Well the whole thing kind of caught me by surprise. I went up there to learn at that level. My first chance during the regular season, I wanted to watch (Marty) Turco as much as possible. The night before in the game, Turco got injured, he hurt his groin a little bit. We went out to pregame skate and Turcs couldn’t make it out, his groin was hurting him that bad. So I actually did pregame skate stopping pucks at one end, skating to the other end, stop pucks there, skate back, so I was a little bit tired (laughing). They told me that there was a chance that I’d be playing that night, but I figured Turco, you know, he had played 30 games in a row, nothing’s really going to stop him now. But God opened the door for me to go out there and give it a shot. They told me after the pregame skate that I was going in. I was a little bit nervous, and a little tired. So I called up the family and let them know that I was going to be out there playing that evening. I tried to look at it as any other game, any other players. It was going to be difficult, obviously, since you’re playing with guys like Luc Robitaille and Mike Modano and all those superstars that you grew up watching as a kid. But just try to look at it like just another shot from another hockey player. That’s how I tried to view it and things turned out and we won the game.

HF: What was the best save you thought you made in the game?
DE: It’s hard to remember right now, but I think I had maybe a glove save at the end of the game …on some…Frolov guy or something like that (smiling). I remember reading it somewhere that I made a good save so that was probably the best one (laughing).

HF: It sounds like other people remember it better than you do.
DE: Yeah, I think so (laughing). It’s been a long time. I’ll have to get back up there and make a few more.

HF: The Dallas organization is pretty deep in goal, does that motivate you, having a lot of competition?
DE: I think it’s a motivation, but also you can only take care of what you can take care of. You try to focus on your game and not the other guys. They’re going to play how they’re going to play and you can’t really do anything about it. You have to go to practice every day and try to get better and look at everything as an opportunity to improve and gain experience.

HF: You mentioned that you wanted to watch Turco when you were up with Dallas, what did you pick up from him?
DE: He’s just really focused on the puck. Great puck-focus and good rebound control. He’s another guy that, like I said I left college to try to have some more fun, he has the most fun of anyone I’ve ever seen as a goaltender. That was also an encouragement, that maybe I’m looking at things the right way. Just continue on that way and enjoy every step.

HF: Can you describe your style for those who haven’t seen you play?
DE: I’d say I’m more of a butterfly goalie. I try to stand up a little bit more here and there to take away some of the predictability. I think I have decent lateral movement. Puckhandling is something that I’ve got to improve on, obviously with the goal tonight (laughing). I didn’t really help in that area. That’s basically it.

HF: Is there anything besides puckhandling that you thing you need to work on?
DE: Goalies that aren’t that great of puckhandlers need to work on it, it’s getting bigger. Turco and Brodeur, they’re making it a bigger aspect of the game at the professional level. Hopefully they won’t take that away, being able to play the puck. I think also like every other goalie, rebound control, focusing in on the puck, deflections, getting wiser I guess on the ice. Making less movement.

HF: Do you feel like you’ve already improved over the course of the season compared to college?
DE: Yeah, I feel a lot better, I mean last year wasn’t a year that I would have liked to hang my hat on at all. It didn’t go so well. But I think this year has gone well. I’ve learned from all different levels. I feel good in the playoffs right now. We’ve got a great team here and I’ve enjoyed every step. So I do think this year has been an improvement as opposed to last year which was a bit of a backslide. It’s nice to be going back up.

HF: Do you keep up with Nebraska-Omaha very much?
DE: Yeah, I talk with the equipment coach all the time, Mark Pane. He’s just a fun guy that I always got along with well, he always hooked me up with good stuff while I was there. He always gives me the lowdown about how things are going. A lot of times you try to call a player and it’s during practice time since they have different practice times than us. He’s always available, he always gives me the scoop on things. And I’m always watching them on the internet. There’s a fan website called mavspuck.com, I try to look at it a lot, usually they have a little bit of a scoop, the recent articles and stuff. I look at the ccha.com website as well. Yeah, I’m always looking for them, trying to cheer them on. Unfortunately they lost to Michigan this year, but hopefully next year will be a better year for them.

HF: You spent three years in college, are you are going to try to finish up your degree in the summers?
DE: That’s something I’m going to have to wait and see on. Right now I just want to get comfortable and acclimated to the professional lifestyle. Kind of get away from school for a little bit. Take a little bit of a break. It’s nice not going to school every day. Not having any homework, being able to focus on just one thing. I think that’s one thing that’s also really helped me this year, that I haven’t had any other things to focus on like school. I think eventually yeah, I will get it accomplished. Both my parents are teachers, my brother is going to be a pediatric neurosurgeon, so it would be smart for me to pick one up. It’s a stepping stone in your life, something nice to accomplish because there’s always going to be life after hockey and you have to be ready for it. Hockey’s not going to last forever, most guys retire anywhere between 32 and 42, so you’ve got about 40 years left of life so you have to get it going, especially if you don’t make the money.

HF: Your mask is pretty interesting, can you describe what you have on it and why?
DE: For my mask I just tried to think of something that that has to do with Texas but I didn’t want to put a bunch of stars on it, I didn’t really think that would look so cool. So I tried to go with more of a western theme. I found some good pictures of like Wyatt Earp from the movie Tombstone so I put him on one side and a robber on the other side. In the background is a saloon. The bottom and the chin piece have a sheriff’s badge with my number inside of it. On the back, it’s just basically a ‘Wanted’ sign, my name and two Jesus fish on either side of my name, being a Christian just to represent that.

HF: You back into your net kind of far (at the beginning of play), what’s that all about?
DE: It’s actually something I got started with with one of my goalie coaches when I was younger, Dave Taparyn. He always taught me, ‘butt crack to the middle post will line you up perfectly to the puck.’ It’s something that I got used to, and maybe it’s something I can get away from since I’ve been doing it for seven or eight years now, but it’s something I feel comfortable with and it’s actually something that draws a lot of attention. People always ask me, every single level that I’ve played at they’ve talked about that, junior, college, and now up in pro, they’re always asking me what I’m doing there, and what I’m doing with my stick (laughing).

HF: What do you do with your stick?
DE: I bang it on the posts a little bit, just to keep my arms moving. A lot of people thought it was a superstition, but it helps my arms, kick out some lactic acid. Keep them going I guess, but a lot of people think it’s strange. A little trademark I guess.