Blues goaltender Brian Elliott
describes himself as a stubborn man.
“What I want, I usually get,” Elliott said recently.
Somewhere on his list of wants and desires must have been a trip to the NHL All-Star Game.
The 26-year-old native of Newmarket, Ontario was selected to be the Blues’ lone representative at the 2012 NHL All-Star Weekend in Ottawa. It’s an honor he has certainly earned as he ranks first overall in the League in goals-against average (1.69), save percentage (.938) and ranks second in shutouts (5). He is 15-5-2 in 23 games this season.
“I’m just surprised really,” he said recently. “You don’t really expect to get the nod and the honor of being selected. It’s pretty big for me.”
For Elliott, it’s been a long road to get here.
He grew up like any other kid in Canada: living and breathing the game of hockey. He played as a forward until age 11, when he told his dad, Bill, that he wanted to be a goalie because he never wanted to come off the ice. His older brother, Dan, was also a goalie, so he modeled his game after him and some of his hockey heroes, including Curtis Joseph, Ed Belfour and Felix Potvin.
After Dan stopped playing hockey, Brian continued to hone his craft, eventually getting selected by the Ottawa Senators in the ninth round (291st overall) in 2003. He spent four seasons at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he led the Badgers to a National Championship in 2006 and finished as a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award with eight shutouts in 33 appearances.
Despite the lofty college numbers, he wouldn’t get a serious chance as an NHL netminder until the 2008-09 season, where he went 16-8-3 in 31 games for the Senators. He posted a solid 29 wins in his second season but struggled mightily in his third and was eventually traded to the Colorado Avalanche.
In Denver, he posted just two wins in 12 appearances. It was rock bottom for Elliott, and he considered himself lucky when the Blues approached him with a one-year, two-way contract to compete with Ben Bishop for the backup role in St. Louis.
The rest, as they say, is history.
“I don’t think you can get to this League without believing in yourself, so I was confident and I’m pretty stubborn,” Elliott said. “All throughout my career, I’ve been pushing. It doesn’t matter if you’re drafted second-to-last overall...if you have an opportunity, you take it and try to run with it.”
“At the beginning of the year, there was a lot of uncertainty. No one knew what kind of goalie he was going to be for us,” said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk
. “We all knew he had experience, and I think as he started playing better and better, the defensive corps started playing with more confidence. It seems like, when you’re in the third period and you need one or two saves to keep you in the game or keep you in the lead, he’s been doing it all year.”
This weekend’s All-Star festivities should give the rest of the hockey world an opportunity to take notice. Elliott will participate in the All-Star Player Fantasy Draft on Thursday, Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. and will be selected by one of the team captains, former teammate Daniel Alfredsson or Boston’s Zdeno Chara. On Saturday, Jan. 28, he’ll face off with some of the NHL’s most skilled players in the Skills Competition at 6 p.m. Finally, on Sunday, he’ll get 20 minutes of ice time in the 2012 NHL All-Star Game when the puck drops at 3 p.m.
The weekend will put an exclamation point on what’s becoming of the League’s best comeback stories.
“I think he’s a perfect example of perseverance. He’s just a great model for staying with it,” Blues Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “He’s resurrected a career based on being able to look in the mirror, make adjustments and not feeling sorry for himself…Every time the game is on the line, when it’s right there one way or another, our guys make the big save and keep us going.”
Last week, the Blues rewarded Elliott with a new two-year contract extension. Along with Jaroslav Halak
, the goalie tandem has given the Blues a League-best 1.96 goals-against average, but the goalies won’t take all of the credit for their success.
“It has a lot to do with the team’s consistency in front (of me). Playing behind these guys has been really nice for Jaro and myself,” Elliott said. “I just try to stop the ones I should and a couple I shouldn’t.
“I try not to get too wrapped up in the success and I come to work every day like it’s the first day of the season. The fans have been great and the city has been great to me and my family.
"I’m happy to be here.”