RALEIGH — The past two years have been tough for the Hurricanes’ Dan Ellis. But on Friday, he learned that he will earn his fifth start of the season at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of his former teams.
After playing in just 10 games, Ellis suffered a torn groin muscle with the Anaheim Ducks in January of the 2011-12 season and had to be treated for a sports hernia.
The former Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators, Lightning and Ducks goaltender then found the road back to the NHL would be tougher than before, as he was not offered a contract during the entire offseason heading into the lockout.
“It was a bit of an eye opener for me,” Ellis said. “I went through surgery and felt like I was fully recovered, but it’s hard to convince a team of that. But it was definitely a blessing in disguise.”
On Sept. 24, Ellis’ finally got an opportunity as he signed a tryout contract with the Charlotte Checkers. The contract didn’t guarantee a spot on the roster, but gave him a chance to compete with Justin Peters for the starting role.
While with the Checkers, Ellis had time to rebuild strength and regain his timing. That valuable time was what Ellis said was the key to his success.
During the lockout, the 6-foot-1 goaltender shined for the Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate and earned an NHL contract on January 13 – one year and six days after he went down for the season with the groin injury.
“It was a nice transition when I got to sign the NHL contract,” Ellis said. “I already knew the system and the guys that were here, so that made things a lot easier. Being able to play alongside Cam [Ward] and learn things from him has been an added benefit.”
Ward said the time Ellis spent in Charlotte helped ready him for the regular season during the lockout.
“He’s done a very good job in the net and gives the team confidence with whoever’s in the net,” he said. “The fact that he was playing well in Charlotte, you can just see how comfortable he is in the net. Every practice and every game I know I have to play well because he’s playing so well.”
In just four starts in the crease, Ellis is 2nd in the NHL in save percentage (.943), trailing only Craig Anderson, and is 5th in goals against average (1.75). In his first two starts, Ellis stopped 73 of 74 shots, and had a shutout victory against Anderson and the Senators.
That type of stability from a backup goalie is something goaltending coach Greg Stefan said could set the Hurricanes apart during a compacted season.
“Anytime your backup goalie can come in and give you some minutes and crucial wins it’s important,” Stefan said. “In a shortened season, where your games are cramped together, having a great backup goalie is even more important.
“That’s all credit to him – his focus and determination have gotten him to this point.”
After a long road back to the NHL, Ellis earning a chance to start Saturday is yet another chance to prove his worth to a franchise that believed in him.
“So far I’ve been fortunate just to help this team,” Ellis said. “Once you’re out of the game like I was, you fall into a role of just gratitude for anyone who gives you a chance to prove yourself. I’m just happy to be here and happy with any opportunity that is presented before me.”