Ellis makes mark in the NHL, puts UNO hockey on the map
Published: Tuesday, February 24, 2004
Updated: Thursday, March 10, 2011 15:03
A new era for University of Nebraska at Omaha hockey dawned last week as Dan Ellis donned the sweater of the Dallas Stars. Wednesday night Ellis became the first alumus of the Maverick hockey program to play in a National Hockey League game. The three-year goalie for the Mavericks made his old school proud by turning in 25 saves for a 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings.
"It's always good to win your first game, you know. I got the game puck and I had a lot of support throughout, and it is just a good feeling," Ellis said.
That puck, as well as the game will forever link Ellis' name with two future hall-of-famers. Luc Robitaille christened Ellis into the NHL with what Ellis described as a "goal scorers goal" in the first period. Robitaille's shot clanked off the post and in the net for his 647th career goal, and Ellis' first career goal against. Mike Modano scored two goals in support of Ellis to give the Stars the lead and the eventual win.
"You don't feel too bad about a goal like that, it was a heck of a shot," Ellis said of Robitaille's goal. "And I look at Modano as just a teammate but for him to get those two goals was huge for me."
The win was an important one for the Stars as it bolstered them from ninth to sixth in the playoff standings.
Playing for the Utah Grizzlies of the American Hockey League, Ellis got the call on Feb. 5, completing his "coast to most" rookie season. Ellis started the season with the Idaho Steelheads of the East Coast Hockey League before joining Utah. He spent just under two weeks with the Stars before rejoining Utah on Feb. 20.
A series of injuries within the Stars organization put Ellis in position to fulfill his boyhood dream. Ron Tugnutt, backup to starter Marty Turco with the Stars was out with an injury, which put Ellis next in line to fill the void at backup. After 30 consecutive starts, Turco couldn't participate in the Stars pre-skate Wednesday due to foot and groin problems, so Ellis got the start.
"I was really excited. Every emotion goes through you. I was happy, nervous, scared, just everything. It's hard to realize it's real until you get on the ice."
Ellis also admitted he was a touch nervous until he made his first couple saves.
During the broadcast of the game, UNO was mentioned for the first time in the same breath as having a player in the NHL. Ellis was representing.
"It's a good feeling, an honor to be the first to put UNO on the map for the NHL," Ellis said. "There are guys like Greg Zanon, Jeff Hoggan and Bryce Lampman who will likely play in the NHL as well, so this shows that it is a goal that is achievable. Guys go to the show from Michigan, why not UNO."
Ellis hadn't forgotten his roots and his roots didn't forget him. From his hometown in Orangeville, Ontario, an entourage of supporters watched Ellis' big night at both his parents' houses. Back in Omaha, legions of season ticket holders caught the satellite broadcast.
Kent Cisar, a Maverick season-ticket holder since the program's inception said, "First thing I remember was hearing Ellis' name mentioned with (Mike) Modano, Jason Arnott, Bill Guerin and some of the other players was just amazing. We've been anticipating this for three or four years wondering which guy would be first.
"To me it's an affirmation that this program is still growing and we can produce talent. We've never had a guy on this type of track and it was a sense just like you've seen with all the other monumental things you look on at the program, 'where were you when the first UNO player played in the NHL?' You couldn't ask for a better debut for Ellis, or the UNO program."
Ellis is now back in Utah to be the Grizzlies main goalie in hopes of taking that team to the AHL playoffs. He may actually be able to settle into an apartment for the remainder of the season after getting confirmation that he would be there for the rest of the year.
Going from the coast to the most hasn't been easy on Ellis' living arrangements. Ellis has been living in and out of hotels while bouncing around from Boise to Utah to Dallas, but he is confident in his chances to be the permanent backup in Dallas next season.
"I'm back in Utah trying to win games. I'm preparing to be able to make a run at backup for Turco next season. It's tough at times, I get messed up and forget my room numbers, I mean my car is still in Boise with some of my stuff."
Ellis is grateful for his opportunities this year and has faith that he will again find himself in the show. "God has opened a lot of doors for me this year and this was just another opportunity and I hope to be back again," he said.