Former Spitfires captain a portrait of POE success
Hockey Canada's Program of Excellence has produced a steady stream of elite talent over the years, but it can be argued that no one represents the POE's aims better than Ryan Ellis.
There may have been bigger names to pass through, such as Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Shea
Weber and even Ellis's former teammate in Windsor, Taylor Hall, but last year's Canadian Hockey League player
of the year has a trophy case the envy of all from his time in service to Canadian hockey.
“I had a great junior career,” Ellis said. “I got to play with some great players.”
The native of Freelton, Ont. is the only player in OHL history to have won gold medals at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, IIHF World Under-18 Championship, Memorial of Ivan Hlinka summer under-18 tournament and IIHF World Junior Championship, as well as win the Memorial Cup.
In Ellis's case, he won back-to-back Memorial Cups with the Windsor Spitfires, putting he and his teammates in elite company as one of only eight teams to accomplish that feat.
In addition, Ellis earned two silver medals at the IIHF World Junior Championship in 20, captaining Canada’s National Junior Team at the 2011 edition of the tournament.
“When you think of Ryan Ellis, and all the awards he’s won, it’s unbelievable,” said Nashville Predators president/general manager David Poile, who drafted Ellis 11th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
“Pure and simple, Ryan Ellis is a winner. I love players that are playing in May and June all the time and Ryan is that type of person.”
When Ellis entered the Program of Excellence at the 2008 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, no one was quite sure what an undersized defenceman, who played a big game with over-sized offensive skills, might be capable of as he climbed the international hockey ladder.
At five-foot-nine, 184 pounds, size has frequently been the biggest hurdle for Ellis to overcome. However, after getting his foot in the door with Hockey Canada, his unique skill set was too intriguing to ignore.
Ellis rewarded his selection by finishing as the 2008 tournament's highest-scoring defenceman with nine points in eight games, and repeated his strong performance at that spring’s U18 Worlds, where he played as an underager, and at the Ivan Hlinka tournament that summer.
His coach with Canada’s National Men’s Under-18 Team, former Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks bench boss Pat Quinn, was so impressed with Ellis' skill set he essentially created a position for him when took over Canada's National Junior Team a year later.
Even though Ellis was 17 when the 2009 World Juniors began, Quinn gambled that the little blue-liner could hang with the big boys.
“I've always had to overcome the doubters,” said Ellis, who quarterbacked a deadly Canadian power play in the tournament and was instrumental in keeping the puck in that led to Jordan Eberle's memorable goal in the dying seconds of Canada's semifinal win over Russia.
“People have always worried about my size. I've just had to work harder.”
It was only natural when Ellis was chosen to play in his third World Juniors last December that he'd be named team captain. He again was outstanding, earning Top Defencemen honours from the IIHF Directorate.
By the time he'd finished his World Junior career, Ellis was tied for second with Jordan Eberle in all-time scoring by a Canadian at the tournament with 25 points and was highest-scoring defenceman in the history of the tournament.
The story was much the same at the club level for Ellis.
In the 2010-11 season, he became the first OHL defenceman in 17 years to crack the 100-point mark. His 24 goals and 101 points in 58 games made him the first defenceman to ever lead the Spitfires in scoring.
He finished his junior career with 314 points in 226 games and is one of three defencemen in OHL history to compile over 300 points in a career.
It seemed Ellis had learned his lessons well on junior hockey's grandest stages.
He'd also brought them back to share with his teammates. Ellis won the Mickey Renaud Trophy in his final junior season as the OHL's top captain.
As the Spitfires gathered this fall to begin life without Ellis, it was left to German forward and former teammate Tomas Kuhnhackl to place in perspective Ellis's influence in junior hockey.
“What I learned that was most important last year was what a tremendous captain Ryan Ellis was,” said Kuhnhackl, who scored 39 goals as a rookie.
“He helped me so much. He showed me how important it was to help the younger players.
“He was the best captain you could have.”
Surely there can be no finer testament to the Program of Excellence then that it has reached beyond the borders of this nation.