Ryan Ellis was already quite handy with a hockey stick in his hand. Eight-plus weeks into the pause of the NHL season, and you can add a hammer, drill and a myriad of other tools to that list.
The associate captain of the Nashville Predators, his beard as impressive as ever, has spent the majority of his quarantine back home in Ontario learning a few tricks of the trade from his father-in-law, a general contractor. Ellis, his wife and not-quite-1-year-old son are residing in their new house, and the defenseman has been utilizing free time to become just as comfortable with a Phillips head as he is with a power play.
"My wife's father is really handy as a general contractor, so he's teaching me the tricks of the trade," Ellis said Thursday via video conference. "We've done a lot of work around the house, from electrician stuff, some plumbing stuff, we've built a couple things… just trying to pick up odds and ends and jobs that I never had a chance to do previously. This has given me a chance to kind of catch up on all those things. Obviously, it's not the greatest circumstance to do so, but I guess you try to make the best of the situation."
It's a situation that saw Ellis and his teammates defeat the Montreal Canadiens back on March 10, and two days later, instead of facing the Maple Leafs, the Preds were jetting out of Toronto back to Tennessee. Once it became clear hockey wasn't returning within a couple of weeks, Ellis and his family went north to a home that already has a gym inside, allowing him to stay in shape and be ready if and when he gets back on the ice this summer.
Ellis has also been on the move with his son, who has just learned how to walk, making sure the youngster finds some stability while practicing his newfound talent.
But, like just about everyone involved in the game, Ellis would love to be back and playing at some point in the months to come - if it's safe to do so.
"When you have a work stoppage like this, it's going to affect everyone," Ellis said. "Whether you work at the rink, whether you play, whether you're management, whether you own the team, whatever it is, everyone's affected. The first thing is safety comes first for everyone that's involved, whether it be players or staff or management. But I feel like we owe it to the fans to a certain degree [to try and play again]."
"If we could play, I think it'd be a great way, one, to keep people at home and watching the games, but two, I think it'd be a [way to break] the boredom that comes with this quarantining. It's great to hear that the League is doing everything they can to make that happen, but it has to be in the safest way possible for everyone involved."
Video: Ryan Ellis checks in from Canada
That protocol, and so much more, is up to the NHL and the Players Association to figure out, and Ellis says he's been on just about every call the NHLPA has had up to this point as a way to stay well informed on what's being proposed.
"[The calls have] been good," Ellis said. "Everything depends on how the virus plays out and how everything is, so we can somewhat get back to normal, and that will depend on whether we play or not. But all the calls, everything that has gone on, the PA has done a great job as far as informing the players, and it's somewhat just a waiting game until everything goes [somewhat normal]. It's not going to be really normal ever, but until it gets back to a time that's safe enough for us to play."
Until that time hopefully comes, Ellis will keep rollerblading in the driveway, utilizing a recently purchased Pilates reformer and focusing on the usual strength and endurance exercises to stay lean and limber. As one of Nashville's leaders, he's kept in touch with his teammates too, keeping things light and making sure those lines of communication remain open despite the distance between the hockey team.
There is hope concrete plans will be devised soon and players will be able to ditch text chains in favor of locker room banter, even if it's from a distance.
Rest assured, this group wants to be back together, and for good reason.
"To be honest, I felt the team was really turning the corner," Ellis said. "We were in those games… We were starting to feel better about ourselves in those situations [against divisional opponents], and those are big games for us to win. I felt we were really starting to turn the corner, and we've worked our way back into a playoff spot. I think the guys really started to embrace the grind at the end of the season, and it's unfortunate that we had to stop. I feel like we had the momentum going, and hopefully, if we do restart, we can kind of pick up where we left off and carry what momentum we had into the remainder [of a potential playoff run]."