BUFFALO -- Defenseman Ryan Ellis remembers his first World Junior Championship experience as if it were yesterday.
Or does he?
"I remember being on the ice and not wanting to be there," Ellis said. "I was so nervous. I can understand what the young players are going through in this tournament; it's nerve-racking."
Ellis was thrown right into the fire for Team Canada during the 2009 WJC, but he finished with a Canadian record for most points by a 17-year-old defenseman with seven, and he was on the ice at the tournament's pivotal moment -- the final seconds of the semifinal against Russia, where he helped set up the play that led to Jordan Eberle's memorable game-tying goal which helped save a gold medal for Canada.
The fact Ellis has been there and done that was a big reason he was selected captain for Team Canada for this year's WJC -- the third of his career. He exhibited great composure while showcasing the ice in his veins on Sunday in a 6-3 victory against Russia in Canada's first preliminary-round match at HSBC Arena.
Ellis gave Canada its first lead of the game 10:35 into the second on a pretty nifty play that coach Dave Cameron labeled an "elite" decision with the puck. On the goal, the 5-foot-10, 172-pound defenseman blasted a shot low on the ice from the point that hit the end boards, caromed back and hit the left skate of Russian goalie Igor Bobkov and skidded into the net.
"I remember being on the ice and not wanting to be there. I was so nervous. I can understand what the young players are going through in this tournament; it's nerve-racking." --Ryan Ellis on playing in the 2009 WJC
"I think without a doubt he missed the net (on purpose), because when he had the puck, it looked like he was going to fire it and we yelled from the bench that he had time," Cameron said. "If you watch the video, you can see him reload, so he took that information and processed it halfway through his shot. That's elite."
How many elite guys can make that kind of play?
"I have no idea," Cameron said. "How many elite guys are there? Not very many."
Ellis, who was named Canada's player of the game against Russia, didn't think the play was that big a deal; he considers it his job.
"I think when someone is in your lane, you can't hit them, so you got to think about different options and mine was to bank it off the backboards and hope it goes to one of our guys in front," Ellis said. "Getting bounces like … that you're obviously doing something right. But any way you can get a goal, it's exciting."
With a roster that averages 18.68 years of age, Team Canada certainly isn't banking on deep-rooted experience at this year's tournament. In fact, the roster features just four returnees from last year's silver-medal winning team -- defensemen Ellis, Jared Cowen and Calvin de Haan, and forward Brayden Schenn.
That said, Ellis is comfortable in his role as captain. He said the team is here to win a gold medal and anything less would be a disappointment.
Photo by Aaron Bell
"Whether I have a good tournament or bad tournament, so long as we win that gold medal, it doesn't matter," he said. "That's what everyone has in mind."
Ellis already happens to be Canada's all-time top scoring defenseman in World Junior history, producing 16 points in 13 games. However, he knows it can't be all about piling up the points this year.
"It's a different mindset for me this year," Ellis said. "Every year, your role increases and you have to step up that much more. I think in my first year, I was the youngest guy there and working my way in and trying to get comfortable. In Year 2 I was still young but trying to get more of a leadership role (as alternate captain), and this year, I'm one of the oldest guys. There's a lot of first-year guys on the team and I've just got to step up and be a leader. I was excited to take on that role."
Gut-check time came relatively early Sunday as Russia took a 1-0 lead 3:57 into the first period. According to Ellis, however, there really was no need for concern. His assessment of the situation certainly bodes well for his future as a potential captain in the NHL.
"It was so early in the game, third shift or so, and there was still 50 minutes left," Ellis said. "You can't panic, and I think everyone was calm. Everyone goes down by one or two goals at some point, so you just need to stand up and say, 'Let's pick it up.' I think that was a bit of a wake-up call and I think we started playing better after that. One goal, one period, doesn't make a game. We had the jitters and just needed to improve our overall play."
Ellis, the No. 11 pick by Nashville in the 2009 Entry Draft, has a good idea of the requirements necessary in a short tournament such as the WJC.
"Building chemistry and coming together as a team," he said. "The best teams, the teams that win, are the closest-knit teams. This group is pretty close and I think that's one of the most important factors. Obviously you have to produce on the ice as well, but being close and having chemistry is important."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale