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Ellis' extra efforts paying off in strong season

by Brian Compton

Julien Ellis, the Victoria Salmon Kings’ netminder, is determined to give everything he has in order to show Vancouver brass that he has what it takes to play at the next level and beyond.
If Julien Ellis ever wants to move up within the Vancouver Canucks’ organization, he knows he has his work cut out for him.

After all, this is a franchise that already contains the likes of Roberto Luongo, Curtis Sanford and Drew MacIntyre.

So when training camp opened this season, the Victoria Salmon Kings’ netminder was determined to give everything he had in order to show Vancouver brass that he has what it takes to play at the next level and beyond.

Thus far, Ellis has done just that. In seven appearances this season, the 21-year-old is 6-1-0 with a 2.71 GAA and a .929 save percentage. His dazzling play has the Salmon Kings one point ahead of the Alaska Aces for the lead in the West Division.

“I don’t want to stay in the ECHL all my career,” said Ellis, who was drafted in the sixth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Canucks. “For me, it’s a good thing that I have those numbers right now. I’m pretty happy about that.”

So is Victoria coach Mark Morrison, who said he noticed something different about his goaltender as soon as training camp opened. Morrison attributes a change in attitude as the biggest reason for Ellis’ quick start.

“He’s off to a real good start,” Morrison said. “He came down with a good attitude. There’s a difference in Julien from last year. His work ethic and his whole attitude is a whole lot better than it was last year.”

That being said, Ellis still put up solid numbers in 2006-07 for the Salmon Kings, going 21-14-2 with a 3.20 GAA and a .912 save percentage. His work in the ECHL landed him a cup of coffee with Manitoba in the American Hockey League. Ellis, who was a rookie last season, struggled at the Triple-A level, as he won just once in eight appearances. He posted a 3.37 GAA and an .884 save percentage.

Nonetheless, it was an opportunity for Ellis to play just one step below the NHL. He believes that it will only make him a better goaltender in the long run.

“It was good for my experience, but I was a little bit disappointed about my games there,” Ellis said. “I played maybe four good games, but I’m looking forward to playing some games there this year. We’ll see what happens.”

Morrison believes that Ellis’ play has made everyone on the Salmon Kings’ roster better. When Ellis is on top of his game, it allows the players in front of him to believe that they don’t have to sit back and protect their goaltender. They can go for the odd-man rush. They can jump in on a play, knowing full well their netminder can bail them out if he’s needed to.

“He’s got a lot of confidence in himself,” Morrison said. “He’s become a real leader on the team. When he’s in the net, everything goes better just because of the confidence all the players have in him. He’s brought that on himself. He shows it not only in games, but in practice. Nobody’s worked harder than him.

“I think the guys feel they can go for it a little bit more,” the coach added. “They can take the chance, and he’s always going to be there for them. He makes us a better team.”

There is certainly zero doubt that the Salmon Kings are a better team this time around and are on pace to enjoy their best season in franchise history. After struggling the first two seasons, Victoria turned the corner in 2006-07 and now appears primed to be a contender in the National Conference.

“Every game is a new game,” Ellis said. “I think we’ve got a good bunch of guys. We’re going to be ready every game. We’ve got some good leaders on the team. Every team is going to see us as a challenge, so that will bring excitement for this year.”

If he continues to dominate at the ECHL level, it’s hard to imagine Ellis not getting another crack at the AHL at some point this season.

If he continues to dominate at the ECHL level, it’s hard to imagine Ellis not getting another crack at the AHL at some point this season. When that will happen, obviously, remains to be seen. In the meantime, Ellis will show up for work every day at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre with the goal of showing everyone that he is capable of playing at the next level.

“I have no idea,” Ellis said when asked when he could expect a call from Manitoba. “I just want to do my job right now. Things are going pretty well, so I’m not worried about that. If I play like this all year long, I think that Manitoba or someone will try to pick me up. I’ll do the best I can and we’ll see what happens.”

Morrison is convinced Ellis will get promoted at some point during the season, just as long as he continues to provide the Salmon Kings with the consistency that has been missing in years past. As long as does that, Ellis will certainly make Vancouver brass sit down and rethink what to do with the Sorel, Quebec native.

“I think he realizes that he’s got to be real consistent,” Morrison said. “You just have to never quit and work through it. I think that’s the difference in him this year from last year. There was some ups and downs with him. This year, his consistency, whether it’s a practice or a pre-game skate or a game, he seems to always be strong. I think he’ll get some games there. I guess it all depends on their situation, but he’s certainly making it hard for them to ignore him. He’s putting the ball in their court.”

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