A week ago tonight, as Morgan Ellis prepared to play his first-ever National Hockey League game, he couldn’t help but contemplate his recent hockey history, how less than 14 months ago before, he had been in the ECHL, with the Wheeling Nailers, looking to re-discover lost confidence in his game.
“I think it’s natural to think of moments that led you to that point of your life and the first thing I thought of was when I was sent down to Wheeling,” said Ellis, who is back with the St. John’s IceCaps after a three-game NHL stay with the Montreal Canadiens.
“It wasn’t really a negative, though. It was a great group of guys, a great coaching staff in Wheeling that helped me get back to where it needed to be.
“But being down there, it might cause you to think a little more about whether you’re ever going to get to the NHL. You might have to remind yourself a little more often: step by step.”
It turns out Ellis’s subsequent steps were fairly large ones, leading him first to his status as the IceCaps’ defensive leader for the majority of this season and then to the ice at the Honda Centre in Anaheim for his NHL debut against the Ducks.
That last step validated his optimistic attitude and added to his already large appreciation for those who have helped him get this far, especially his family back in his hometown of East Bideford, in northwestern Prince Edward Island.
“Some people get in that situation like I was in Wheeling, and maybe they mope,” said Ellis. “But negativity will never get you anywhere except some place even worse than you are now.
“I know it might be cliche, but you focus on the positive, and not just about your job or your life. The way I look at it, if everyone in your family is good, then really there is nothing to worry about. Family is the most important thing … by far.”
Positively effective: St. John’s IceCaps Morgan Ellis prides himself on play in the defensive zone
Ellis is a farm boy from a large family. His mother June and father Glen, who among other things, raises cattle, had six children in less than 10 years.
“You learn the value of work, because growing up on a farm, the day is not over until the work is done,” said Ellis. “But it’s a good life and that’s mainly because our parents were so good to us growing up. I had an amazing childhood. We weren’t privileged, but our parents made sure we had what we needed to get by.
“There were no fancy trips down south, but you know, I never needed that, never wanted it. We had what we needed .. and more.”
He recalls his father’s patience and understanding when farm work took a back seat to working out.
“He didn’t ask why, didn’t complain. He just did the work himself,” said Ellis.
“Funny thing is that when I was young, I’d often wake up thinking ‘Oh no, I don’t want to go to the barn,’ but now I enjoy it. One of my brothers and I have cows of our own, and even though I don’t get to be there as much as I like, just to go down there and work and to be with your father, brother and other siblings … there’s nothing better.”
His family has yet to see him play in the NHL. His first three games were all on the road out west. He made arrangements for them to come to Montreal for the Canadiens’ current home stand, but he was returned to St. John’s before that happened.
Disappointing to be sure, but you probably already know that Ellis handled it well.
“My dad always phones to ask how things are going, and no matter what — good or bad — I always tell them they could be worse. All you have to do is look at what’s going in other parts of the world. So no day is truly a bad day. If you want it to better, then that’s mostly up to yourself.”
He’s been told he’s the first player from western P.E.I. — “from Summerside up” — to make it to the NHL, and knows that has also become a point of pride for his wider family and for neighbours.
“I had a lot of amazing people around me growing up and it showed in the support I received from them in the last week and a bit,” said Ellis.
So when, as part of his initiation into the NHL, his Canadiens teammates arranged for him to take the “lone lap,” during the warm-up skate prior to last Wednesday’s game in Anaheim, he knew that figuratively, he wasn’t skating alone.
”It was special for me to get to the NHL, of course, but I was proud to be doing it for the people back home, for everyone who has been behind me. Not just because I played in the NHL, but maybe because in some way it showed that whatever people do, that if they stick with it, good things happen.”