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NHL.com: Ellis combines veteran presence with elite play

Monday, 12.27.2010 / 4:24 PM CT / Features
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NHL.com: Ellis combines veteran presence with elite play
BUFFALO -- Defenseman Ryan Ellis remembers his first World Junior Championship experience as if it were yesterday.
Or does he?
"I remember being on the ice and not wanting to be there," Ellis said. "I was so nervous. I can understand what the young players are going through in this tournament; it's nerve-racking."
Ellis was thrown right into the fire for Team Canada during the 2009 WJC, but he finished with a Canadian record for most points by a 17-year-old defenseman with seven, and he was on the ice at the tournament's pivotal moment -- the final seconds of the semifinal against Russia, where he helped set up the play that led to Jordan Eberle's memorable game-tying goal which helped save a gold medal for Canada.
The fact Ellis has been there and done that was a big reason he was selected captain for Team Canada for this year's WJC -- the third of his career. He exhibited great composure while showcasing the ice in his veins on Sunday in a 6-3 victory against Russia in Canada's first preliminary-round match at HSBC Arena.
Ellis gave Canada its first lead of the game 10:35 into the second on a pretty nifty play that coach Dave Cameron labeled an "elite" decision with the puck. On the goal, the 5-foot-10, 172-pound defenseman blasted a shot low on the ice from the point that hit the end boards, caromed back and hit the left skate of Russian goalie Igor Bobkov and skidded into the net.
"I think without a doubt he missed the net (on purpose), because when he had the puck, it looked like he was going to fire it and we yelled from the bench that he had time," Cameron said. "If you watch the video, you can see him reload, so he took that information and processed it halfway through his shot. That's elite."
How many elite guys can make that kind of play?
"I have no idea," Cameron said. "How many elite guys are there? Not very many."
Ellis, who was named Canada's player of the game against Russia, didn't think the play was that big a deal; he considers it his job.
"I think when someone is in your lane, you can't hit them, so you got to think about different options and mine was to bank it off the backboards and hope it goes to one of our guys in front," Ellis said. "Getting bounces like … that you're obviously doing something right. But any way you can get a goal, it's exciting."
With a roster that averages 18.68 years of age, Team Canada certainly isn't banking on deep-rooted experience at this year's tournament. In fact, the roster features just four returnees from last year's silver-medal winning team -- defensemen Ellis, Jared Cowen and Calvin de Haan, and forward Brayden Schenn.
That said, Ellis is comfortable in his role as captain. He said the team is here to win a gold medal and anything less would be a disappointment.
"Whether I have a good tournament or bad tournament, so long as we win that gold medal, it doesn't matter," he said. "That's what everyone has in mind."
Ellis already happens to be Canada's all-time top scoring defenseman in World Junior history, producing 16 points in 13 games. However, he knows it can't be all about piling up the points this year.
"It's a different mindset for me this year," Ellis said. "Every year, your role increases and you have to step up that much more. I think in my first year, I was the youngest guy there and working my way in and trying to get comfortable. In Year 2 I was still young but trying to get more of a leadership role (as alternate captain), and this year, I'm one of the oldest guys. There's a lot of first-year guys on the team and I've just got to step up and be a leader. I was excited to take on that role."
Gut-check time came relatively early Sunday as Russia took a 1-0 lead 3:57 into the first period. According to Ellis, however, there really was no need for concern. His assessment of the situation certainly bodes well for his future as a potential captain in the NHL.
"It was so early in the game, third shift or so, and there was still 50 minutes left," Ellis said. "You can't panic, and I think everyone was calm. Everyone goes down by one or two goals at some point, so you just need to stand up and say, 'Let's pick it up.' I think that was a bit of a wake-up call and I think we started playing better after that. One goal, one period, doesn't make a game. We had the jitters and just needed to improve our overall play."
Ellis, the No. 11 pick by Nashville in the 2009 Entry Draft, has a good idea of the requirements necessary in a short tournament such as the WJC.
"Building chemistry and coming together as a team," he said. "The best teams, the teams that win, are the closest-knit teams. This group is pretty close and I think that's one of the most important factors. Obviously you have to produce on the ice as well, but being close and having chemistry is important."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer





1 CHI 58 36 18 4 160 134 76
2 DAL 55 35 15 5 178 147 75
3 STL 56 30 17 9 133 130 69
4 LAK 53 32 18 3 146 124 67
5 SJS 53 28 20 5 154 143 61
6 ANA 53 26 19 8 120 125 60
7 COL 57 28 25 4 153 158 60
8 NSH 54 25 21 8 139 144 58
9 MIN 54 23 21 10 133 134 56
10 VAN 54 22 20 12 125 144 56
11 ARI 53 24 23 6 139 163 54
12 CGY 53 25 25 3 143 156 53
13 WPG 54 24 27 3 139 157 51
14 EDM 56 22 29 5 138 168 49


R. Josi 54 11 27 -3 38
F. Forsberg 54 17 18 -7 35
S. Weber 54 14 21 -5 35
M. Ribeiro 54 6 27 2 33
J. Neal 54 19 13 18 32
M. Ekholm 54 6 18 3 24
R. Ellis 53 6 16 2 22
C. Smith 54 11 7 -2 18
C. Jarnkrok 53 9 8 0 17
C. Wilson 37 4 12 -1 16
P. Rinne 20 18 7 .903 2.54
C. Hutton 5 2 1 .916 2.36