Elliott comes full circle with All-Star appearance
ST. LOUIS -- Brian Elliott was going to spend some quiet time relaxing at his home in Wisconsin doing nothing special this weekend.
However, the St. Louis Blues goalie had to alter those plans: Good-bye couch, hello rink.
"I wasn't going on a beach vacation or anything like that," Elliott said. "I was going to some cold weather anyway. Why not make it a little colder?"
Yeah, why not, since Elliott will be spending his weekend with the rest of the League's stars at the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game in Ottawa.
Elliott, not expecting the All-Star nod, had planned on spending the time off relaxing with his wife, Amanda. Instead, he'll be the Blues' lone All-Star representative after being selected by the League to participate.
Nobody could have predicted this four months ago when Elliott was coming out of Blues training camp as goalie on a two-way contract who had unexpectedly won the backup job from Ben Bishop.
But when the Blues lost 4-0 to the Dallas Stars on that final day of the preseason and unquestioned No. 1 goalie Jaroslav Halak had another rough outing, the Blues quickly made the choice of going with the more experienced netminder to break an admitted dead heat between Elliott and Bishop.
Halak's struggles continued into the regular season as he lost six of his first seven games. Elliott served as the perfect fail-safe measure.
Since then, Elliott not only has been the perfect backup, but he also has been the perfect No. 1, or in the Blues' case, the perfect 1b -- with Halak being 1a.
Elliott has put up sparkling numbers, going 15-5-1 with a 1.68 goals-against average, .937 save percentage and five shutouts this season. He was the NHL leader for a good portion of the season in GAA and save percentage, and was on equal footing in shutouts. He's still among the League leaders in all these categories -- even after Halak has regained his groove.
Now, Elliott, 26, is being rewarded for his season-saving heroics in St. Louis by playing an All-Star Game in the city that was his first NHL home. The Ottawa Senators drafted Elliott in the ninth round of the 2003 Entry Draft and groomed him until he joined the parent club in 2008.
During the 2010-11 season, however, things went off the rails for Elliott and the Senators. He went 13-19-8 and sported a sub-.900 save percentage before the Senators traded him to Colorado for Craig Anderson.
Elliott went 2-8-1 down the stretch for the Avalanche and entered the summer wondering where he was in his career.
Now, after countless twists and turns -- including a two-year, $3.6 million extension to his original one-year, $600,000 deal -- he is an All-Star.
"It's definitely something you don't picture," Elliott said. "It's an honor to be selected. It's not something you put as a goal, but when it happens, it's pretty cool. You can't really put too much thought into it. ... When it comes time to the break, then that's the time to soak it in and enjoy it."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who has presided over much of Elliott's resurgence after taking the coaching reins from Davis Payne in November, has enjoyed the career revival playing out before him.
"It's kind of a feel-good story, to be honest with you," said Hitchcock. "... He's still on a two-way contract, he's made the best of a situation where there wasn't a lot of guarantees in training camp. I just think if you're a young hockey fan or young hockey player, this just gives you real good confidence that if you stay with it and you keep battling and you keep focusing and you're willing to look your weaknesses and your strengths right in the eye, good things can happen. Brian was a talented guy that kind of got off the rails and put himself back on the rails. Anybody in hockey's proud of it; probably anybody in sports is proud to have a guy come from that far back. We're all proud for him."
"It's definitely weird. It's going to be cold up there. I know that for sure," Elliott said with a smile. "I've got a lot of friends there and obviously they got four guys being selected there. It'll be good to hang out with them again. I'm looking forward to that."
Teammate David Backes, the Blues' lone All-Star last season, agreed that the experience will be something worth cherishing.
"Ells is very deserving and he'll have a great time in a place that he's played before," Backes said.
Elliott, who won a career-high 29 games for the Senators in 2009-10, his first full NHL season, but dropped to 15 wins a season ago while his GAA jumped to 3.34 after a 2.57 GAA the previous season. Many goalies would have a tough time finding their way back to excellence, but Elliott said it's all about living in the present and future.
"Right at the end of the season, I think you just have to put last year's experience in your back pocket and learn from it and know you've got a place in your career for a reason," Elliott said. "You just have to try to get back to that place and gain from it.
"... Just trying to stay relaxed and stay focused and not let any outside things bother me. Sometimes you start thinking too much and that's when things go wrong. You just kind of have to keep it simple out there, let the game come to you, and obviously the guys playing in front of me and scoring big goals, that helps a lot, too."
Hitchcock, who has coached a few All-Star-type goalies in his career -- among them Ed Belfour, one Elliott's idols growing up -- said simplifying things is what's gotten Elliott back on top.
"He's a perfect example of looking and by overworking he created holes in his game and pucks were going through him and around him because he was trying to scramble to a position rather than be in position," Hitchcock said. "He's a great example of using his size to his advantage. He's a 6-foot-3 guy -- he's a big guy and he just lessens his movement and made himself more compact so he's in position to make the save rather than scrambling over there trying to make an acrobatic save.
"It's just another one of those good examples about learning to play the position. A more conservative approach ended up using his size to his advantage."
Instead of relaxing in Wisconsin, Elliott will have to settle for taking part in the game Sunday and Saturday's 2012 Molson Canadian NHL All-Star Skills Competition.
"I don't know. I'm definitely not the fastest skater, that's for sure," Elliott said. "I think they'll throw me in there somewhere. All goalies get thrown in. Some of the guys have crazy (shooting) moves. Maybe you have to throw out a crazy save selection to top them.
"I'm happy to represent the Blues there, and I think it will be an awesome experience and I'm going to soak it in as much as I can."
Elliott may very well be the favorite for Comeback Player of the Year, but according to his coach, this pace is no fluke.
"He was able to find his game," Hitchcock said. "He looked at things, he came back with a new focus and changed some of the things that needed to get changed and he's been good since.
"I think it's another example of when a guy wins ... he won in college, he won in the American (Hockey) League. There's a reason a guy wins. It isn't an accident."