Dan Ellis played one game with Dallas before signing on with Nashville for the 2007-08 season. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
BY DAN ELLIS
Making it to the NHL was a long road for me. You always push for it as a player; you never give up, but for me it was a long road.
In fact, getting into college was a long haul. It took me four years of junior hockey just to finally get a bite of a college scholarship (from the University of Nebraska-Omaha).
The same year I got my scholarship, I also got drafted by Dallas. I had told myself I’d give it one last shot to either move on to college hockey or maybe to get drafted, and things worked out. After being drafted, I spent another four years in the minors traveling around the ECHL and the American League.
When Mike Smith and I were with Dallas, the Stars talked a lot about how one of us was going to stay up and one was going to be sent down, that we were going to rotate and both get a lot of experience. Smith and I had a great competition. We were great friends – and still are; we still keep in touch – and now it’s neat for both of us to look at our new situations. Before, we were competing to be a No. 2 and a No. 3 guy; now, we’re both No. 1s with different teams in different cities.
In the summer of 2007, my agent and I sat down and looked at the teams where we thought there might be opportunities. I think when you’re getting older, it’s not just about the money. After getting to the NHL, you want to find a team with which you might be able to move up the ladder quickly, whether it’s through a lack of experience, injuries or whatever. We targeted a few teams we thought might give me a chance to be called up to the NHL later in the season, or maybe had some injury situations.
It worked out pretty quickly; I signed with Nashville on the second day of free agency. They gave me that chance right out of camp; it was just such a blessing. I was in a situation where I went into camp with two unproven goalies vying for the backup spot, Pekka Rinne and myself. We both had very strong camps. I felt like I did fairly well in the exhibition games and in the end I think they felt I got off to a quicker start than Pekka. They decided to give me that initial shot and after waiting so long to finally get to the NHL – I was 27 at the time and am now 28 – hearing the words “We’re going to keep you” was a tremendous feeling and just an unbelievable experience.
I was fortunate and blessed to be able to get an opportunity in Nashville and make the team out of camp; I guess all the pieces just kind of fell into place over the course of the season.
Last season we were really counted out by a number of people. We realized we were underdogs the entire season and we never wanted to use that as an excuse, we wanted to prove people wrong and play to our full potential. We realized there was never going to be an easy night for our team, but when you come together as a group, you can do a lot of great things.
I think that’s what we were able to do. We put a good stretch drive together and won a bunch of games. We got into the playoffs and really gave Detroit the best run we possibly could. It just happened we were one of the more difficult opponents they had in their quest for the Stanley Cup.
It was a good feeling for us, so I think we can take the confidence we had from last year and build on it, seeing as we have almost the same group. We’ve lost Marek Zidlicky, Chris Mason and Alexander Radulov, but I think we’ve added some good young guys.
This Patric Hornqvist guy is going to be an excellent player; he has really showed a lot of skill and talent so far. I think our young guys have gained that extra year of experience and that goes a long way.
I’m big on setting goals – short-term goals, medium-term, long-term. Obviously for the short-term you focus on those first five to 10 games. You want to get out to a great start, really establish yourself as the starting goaltender and give your team the confidence that they’ve chosen the right person for the job. You want to prove you’re able to handle the task and also just get off to a good start so the team isn’t digging itself out of a hole right away.
Team goals are the same. We want to get off to a great start. There are a lot of teams in our division that have picked up marquee players. But we just have to continue to do what we do best: play within ourselves and play as a group.
Dan Ellis was drafted 60th overall by Dallas in 2000, but played just one NHL game before hooking on with Nashville at the start of last season. By the end of the 2007-08 campaign, Ellis had taken over as the No. 1 and started for the Preds against Detroit in the first round of the playoffs.