Hockey is a way of life for so many Maritimers. We all have our own unique stories in the game. From subtle beginnings to memorable Championship experiences, hockey becomes more than just a game; it shapes our lives.
That’s what makes Colten Ellis’ journey in the game so special.
Hockey has been a part of his life as long as he can remember.
5,913.7 Km Whycocomagh, NS to Vancouver, BC.
That’s the distance between Colten Ellis’ childhood dream and reality.
The Old Barn
Small community arenas across our region become the epicenter of shared hockey dreams. Unfortunately, many old rinks have disappeared over time, but our childhood memories of skating on hallowed ice will live on forever.
That’s certainly the case for Colten Ellis.
“I’ll always remember one of the first times I skated on the ice, myparents took my brother and I to the Whycocomagh Rink,” Ellis said.
“The rink is shut down now, but I played my first six years of organized hockey there.”
The friendly confines of the Whycocomagh Community Rink will always have a special place in Colten Ellis’ heart.
The old barn was where his dream came alive.
Every young kid anticipates a snow day. One could say it’s a Maritime and Canadian tradition. The anticipation is palpable. Snow days meant more to Colten Ellis than anyone else.
“I can remember my father taking me up to the rink pretty well every snow day and most days after school, so I could just get on the ice,” explained Ellis.
“My dad was a big influence for me on and off the ice.”
“He would always be online trying to find drills he could run me through once we got up there.”
The crease was the farthest thing from Colten Ellis’ mind at that point, but it was clear that he was falling in love with the game. He couldn’t get enough of it; the game became part of his DNA. His passion for the game and every thing that it entailed only grew his love of the sport.
Hockey was quickly becoming his life.
Donning the Pads
How does one go from goal scorer to goaltender? The introduction to the crease is usually shared amongst teammates.
Everyone can remember strapping on the pads for the first time and giving it a shot, it’s just what you did; you had to take your turn. “I took my turn in net,” Ellis said proudly.
“I switched in and out of the net for a couple of years, just like everybody else. It was something I really enjoyed and was fairly good at from a young age, so I ran with it.”
You could say Colten Ellis has been running ever since.
The young goaltenders progression and development between the pipes was astonishing. The solitude and pressure of the position never affected his psyche.
At a very young age Ellis embraced the position and all it’s nuances. As quick as he fell in love with the game, he fell in love with the position.
From that point on his hockey dream would be lived behind the mask. No one ever said life in the crease would be easy, but Colten Ellis has always trusted the process.
The crease quickly became his sanctuary; the blue paint became his home. The young backstop was always willing to put in the extra work on and off the ice to push himself to the next level.
The Next Level
Year after year, Colten Ellis continued to excel between the pipes. The dream was alive and well.
The young kid from Whycocomagh, was the talk of the town, an elite level goaltender with a very bright future. The highly touted prospect stayed grounded, humble and was fixated on the end goal.
You see Colten Ellis knew what hard work and dedication was all about, it had been entrenched within his mind from the first moments he stepped on the ice at the old Whycocomagh arena. All the lessons learned after school and on snow days with his father left a lasting impression.
Dedication turned into passion.
Ellis had worked extremely hard to get to this point of his career, he wasn’t about to let the ‘white noise’ or attention from scouts distract him from accomplishing his dream of playing at hockey’s highest level.
Ellis’ was technically sound and tremendously athletic. His hybrid style was extremely efficient and effective. He was a battler, never giving up, always in the fight. At the heart of all his personal success, growth and development was his unwavering work ethic and preparation.
Ellis’ longtime coach and mentor Kyle MacDonald witnessed his amazing progression first hand. “I definitely saw a lot of great things,” said MacDonald.
“To see a thirteen-year-old preparing for a game like a pro at such a young age was pretty impressive.”
“Colten was mature beyond his years,” confessed MacDonald.
“Kyle was someone who really taught me from a young age how important it was to be a good teammate and person before anything else on the ice,” Ellis said.
Every goaltender needs a coach, a mentor that they can trust through all the ups and downs. A trusted ally, that truly believes in them and the process.
MacDonald and Ellis forged a unique bond, which still exists today. “Kyle was someone I looked up to then and still do to this day,” Ellis said.
“I’m not overly surprised to see where Colten is at right now,” MacDonald said.
“His work ethic was just outstanding.”
“Colten was a lot of fun to be around, but then forty minutes before practice, he would be getting ready and trying to get on the ice early, he was always so focused.”
“We worked on playing the puck a lot, and he became an outstanding puck mover for us, anything like that he was always very focused.”
MacDonald believes Ellis’ commitment and passion for the game is what really set him apart. “Colten always wanted to being doing things that no one else was doing.”
“He took it to another level as far as conditioning or anything like that, he always took those things serious.”
“You could tell he wanted to be a pro,” MacDonald said.
“I remember being on the bus after a game and having pizza for the team. Colten came up to me and said that he didn’t want to eat it because it wasn’t healthy enough for him, he was really serious about all that stuff.”
On and off the ice Ellis’ unwavering commitment to the game never went unnoticed. “I still remember we had an 8am game at the Bantam level, I wanted to get the players up three hours before the game, Colten wanted to get up at 4:30, he always prepared so well for both practices and games.”
The Big Game
There’s no place to hide when you’re the last line of defence. A goaltenders skill, technique and confidence are manufactured by their commitment, preparation and experience.
Behind the mask your expressions, emotions and nerves are always guarded. Colten Ellis’ has always embraced the big moments; never shying away from the spotlight.
“As a coach you would have all the confidence in the world in big games, because Colten was in the net for us, you knew he was going to do his part,” stressed MacDonald.
“He was always good in big games, that’s one quality that he definitely had from a young age. That has a lot to do with the way he prepares daily and the way he takes care of himself.”
“That’s what as made him so good in those big moments,” MacDonald said.
Ellis backstopped the Cape Breton West Islanders all the way to the TELUS Cup Championship in 2017.
In 15 appearances that season with the Islanders Ellis was 14-1, with a 2.05 GAA, and a .920 Save Percentage.
The young netminder appeared in all seven games at the TELUS Cup and finished the tournament with a 2.20 GAA and a .929 Save Percentage. On the highest possible stage in Midget AAA hockey, Colten Ellis rose above them all.
A New Opportunity
On a nation stage, Colten Ellis excelled and turned in a performance for the ages capturing the TELUS Cup. It was a historical victory!
The Cape Breton West Islanders were the first team from Atlantic Canada to ever hoist the Cup.
It was a coming out party for the young netminder who had been selected by the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in the 4th Round 59thoverall in the 2016 QMJHL Entry Draft. “Colten was athletic, very quick and he was a gamer,” said Screaming Eagles Head Scout for Quebec Pat LeBlond.
“I liked the way he reacted in front of his net and how mature he was in almost every situation,” remembered LeBlond.
“We knew Mando, Rodrigue and Gravel were the Top 3 goaltenders at that time, but for some scouts on our staff, Ellis was the goalie who could join them in that elite group,” LeBlond said.
With Kevin Mandolese and Kyle Jessiman sharing the net, the Screaming Eagles had a log jam between the pipes. The organization decided to trade the homegrown talent to the Rimouski Oceanic.
The rest as they say is history.
A New Home
“I wasn’t sure what to expect or anything going to Rimouski,” confessed Ellis.
“I had so much support from my family, friends and everyone in my hometown.”
Ellis only suited up for the Screaming Eagles in three games going 2-0 with a 2.55 GAA and a .885 Save Percentage.
Change is difficult for anyone, but if the young goaltender wanted to continue to chase his dreams, he would have to embrace the new challenge.
Ellis took full advantage of his new opportunity and earned the starting job. “My billet is amazing and she has helped me so much with everything and was a huge part in getting to where I am today,” Ellis said proudly.
“From the excellent coaching staff, to the fans in Rimouski, everyone helped me settle in and helped me be comfortable from day one.”
Ellis is also quick to credit former Oceanic forward and fellow Maritimer Carson MacKinnon for his subsequent success.
“Carson is the one person who helped me the most.”
Ellis had an outstanding rookie season with the Oceanic posting a 33-8-1 record, with a 2.35 GAA and a .913 Save Percentage, and finished the season with six shutouts.
“He helped me out with stuff on and off of the ice, he is someone I can now call one of my best friends.”
The kid from small town Nova Scotia had finally had the opportunity to leave his mark on the QMJHL.
The young goaltender also turned in a solid playoff performance that season, but couldn’t carry the young highly skilled Oceanic past the Moncton Wildcats losing in seven games.
Ellis’ outstanding rookie campaign undoubtedly caught the eye of NHL Scouts.
Entering his sophomore season, the question remained how would the star netminder handle the pressure and rigors of his NHL Draft year?
A Different Kind of Pressure
An NHL Draft year can make or break a players career. The pressure can be overwhelming and take a toll on the player’s overall confidence. It can ruin player’s chances of attaining their life long dream.
Coming off a spectacular rookie campaign, Colten Ellis tried to rely on past experience heading into the pressure packed 2018-2019 season. “I know going into my Draft year for the QMHJL, I had an average year and worried too much about what scouts were thinking of me rather than playing my game. I think this year I handled it a lot better,” confessed Ellis.
“I stopped worrying and cut out overthinking my game and just made sure I had fun.”
Every player handles pressure differently, but is the pressure surrounding a goaltender’s NHL Draft year any different?
“I definitely think there is a different type of pressure for goalies,” confessed Ellis.
“I think knowing you are the last line of defence is some added pressure, and of course, every position has a different type of pressure,” explained Ellis.
The highly touted backstop was under hockey’s microscope all season long and had another strong showing. In 46 appearances this year Ellis was 27-14, with 2.47 GAA and had a .910 Save Percentage with 3 shutouts.
In 12 postseason starts Ellis was 8-4, with a 2.35 GAA and a .911 Save Percentage. “Colten is a special human being, he has a professional mindset,” said Oceanic General Manager and Head Coach Serge Beausoleil.
“Colten is easy to coach, he knows where he is going and what he has to do to perform. He’s a clutch player that you can always count on,” Beausoleil said.
“Colten has steadily improved since his arrival in the league,” said one NHL Scout.
“He has shown consistency and an ability to handle the number one job as a rookie. He has strong technical skills and good athletic ability,” the scout added.
Ellis understands the magnitude and impact of this weekends NHL Draft, but he’s trying to keep everything in perspective. “It’s very difficult to predict what will happen this weekend. I am just going to relax, take everything in and enjoy the time here and the experience with the people that are with me.”
Spoken like a true number one goaltender, calm, cool and collected.
There is one aspect surrounding this weekend that Ellis won’t downplay, which is the countless sacrifices his parents have made throughout his career to get him to this point. “I could never thank my parents and family for all the support they have provided me. Countless road trips, an unimaginable about of money spent on gear, hotels and food.”
“They devoted so much of their time to take us to practice, games, camps and training sessions, whatever it was we didn’t miss a thing. I would never be where I am today without them,” confessed Ellis.
So did the kid from rural Nova Scotia ever imagine he would be in this position and so close to his dream? “I always had the dream of being drafted and then playing in the NHL.”
“It’s something you always dream of, so it’s surreal to be at the draft,” confessed the 18-year-old star netminder.
“It’s not that I ever doubted I would be here growing up, but you just never think that dream would come true.”
5,913.7 Km Whycocomagh, NS to Vancouver, BC. That’s the distance between Colten Ellis’ dreams and his reality.