Earlier in the season, Bakersfield goaltender Nick Ellis had been honing his skills behind Laurent Brossoit as the backup netminder for the Condors.
The former Providence College Friar has now taken the helm of the starting role in Bakersfield as Brossoit is second string behind Cam Talbot in Edmonton with the Oilers.
Video: MINORS MINUTE | Ellis En Fuego
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Although he's playing lights-out, Ellis is keeping the lights on for the Condors playoff hopes as the regular season nears its conclusion. The goaltender is a perfect 6-0-0 in his last six appearances with a .960 save percentage. During that span, he's stopped 165 of 172 shots to help his Condors become one of the hottest teams in the American Hockey League.
The group is on a six-game winning streak, outscoring their opponents 28-10. They currently sit fourth in the Pacific Division with a 25-20-5-1 record and 56 points, four up on the Tucson Roadrunners.
Ellis is, of course, playing a key role in the club's current achievements.
"In his last 10 starts, he's been really consistent," said Oilers Goaltender Development Coach Sylvain Rodrigue. "He's got eight wins, two losses and a 1.17 goals-against average and .952 save percentage. It's pretty good and it's great to see because he's a hard worker."
This season, Ellis is 13-9-2 with a 2.52 goals-against average and .925 save percentage. The 23-year-old is simply working hard and enjoying the current ride.
"Obviously, it's a really good opportunity and I'm just trying to make the most of it," said Ellis. "Work hard every day and just have some fun."
Ellis admitted there was an adjustment period when he first manned the twine in the AHL. Players throw pucks on net much more frequently in the professional game than in college. The undrafted netminder believes he's gotten used to that change.
"I think I have," he said. "I think the biggest thing now is just controlling my rebounds better when they shoot from the corner and at your feet because players are a lot smarter at this level. It's really important as a goaltender to control those rebounds as much as you can which definitely puts a lot less stress on your defence and forwards."
Ellis' effort to control rebounds around his net has made life easier for his teammates. As a result, confidence is being bred into Ellis by his peers. The players have been motivating him, and in turn, he provides motivation for them.
"They definitely encourage me and I try to encourage them as much as I can whenever they make a good play," said Ellis. "I try to let them know. Whenever I come up with a big save or something happens, they definitely let me know. It's a good thing to have, we both have each other's backs."
The strides that Ellis made this season, with the help of the adjustments Rodrigue implemented in his game, have helped manifest confidence in the first-year pro. Once the hard work started paying off, the team fully trusted their starting goalie.
"His positioning has always been really good, so we tried to simplify his game as much as we can," said Rodrigue. "He's got the skill to make the save, we just wanted to clean up a few other areas in the pro game… Now his confidence is growing.
"He's outstanding, the way he's playing. He gives confidence to his teammates and everybody's playing with confidence so that's good for him and it's good for the team. They're in a playoff race right now but it's going to be a battle until the last game of the season."
In a 5-0 win over the Texas Stars in February, Ellis was able to capture his first professional shutout, turning aside all 28 shots he faced.
"That was really special," said the netminder. "It's kind of been on my mind a little bit all year. There have been a couple games where I've let in one or two goals so it's nice to finally get that and be able to move on from it and hopefully do it again sometime."
It's not out of the realm of possibility to see Ellis put up another goose egg given his play of late. For now, the Condors will continue working hard towards their post-season goal, with Ellis backstopping them.
"It's fun to show up to the rink every day and be a part of it," Ellis said. "Continue to work hard and hopefully keep this thing rolling going into the playoffs on a hot streak."
After honing his skills early in the season as a backup, Ellis is proving he can handle the workload as a starter.
"I'm more than capable of it," he said. "It's just going out and showing it every day in practice and every time I get an opportunity to play in a game."