Friday night was magical for Matt Ellis. Saturday afternoon turned out to be pretty special as well.
Moments after scoring the shootout-deciding goal in the Rochester Americans 2-1 win over the Lake Erie Monsters outdoors at Frontier Field on Friday, he skated to center ice to celebrate with his teammates. He was then approached by Amerks coach Chadd Cassidy, who had some good news to share: He was being called back up to the NHL.
“To be perfectly honest, it couldn’t have happened any better,” Ellis recalled Saturday afternoon at First Niagara Center. “I scored the shootout goal, I was in the celebration at center ice and Chadd found me through the group of guys and said, ‘The only thing that’ll make tonight better is me getting to tell you you’re going up to Buffalo tomorrow.’ It was a special moment and it kind of surprised me, but I’m extremely happy to be here.”
Ellis found himself in the Buffalo Sabres lineup against the Calgary Flames on Saturday when Cody Hodgson, who missed the team’s last game in Ottawa with an injury, was announced as a late scratch.
He played 8:43 with two shots on goal in Buffalo’s 2-1 overtime loss. Because three penalties were called in the first 5:09 of the game, he didn’t see his first shift until the 7:02 mark of the opening period.
“I thought Matty played well for us, especially coming from a game last night,” Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said. “He’s a smart player. He did what was asked of him. He competed hard, made some good plays so I was really happy with his play.”
This year in the American Hockey League, Ellis has five goals and five assists in 25 games. Needless to say, the 32-year-old Amerks captain is excited to be back with the Sabres in his first call-up of the season.
“It always feels like that [the first time you get called up],” he said. “It’s a chance to put that jersey on again. It’s something special. It’s something I’ve always been proud of and to be able to come back here and do that again, it definitely drums up those same feelings.”
In the outdoor game, Cassidy put Ellis in a unique situation. In the bottom of the sixth round, he called on his captain. Ellis tried a move that he’d been successful with in practice and scored to give Rochester a 5-4 win.
“I think that was my first shootout attempt since my first year as a pro 12 years ago in the East Coast Hockey League,” Ellis said. “It was actually Colton Gillies that turned to Chadd and said to Chadd, ‘Ellie’s been hot today.’ I had a good morning skate and it’s kind of a joke.
“Sure enough, Chadd said, ‘Ellie, you’re up’ and I was excited, a little bit nervous. It was a strange situation for me, but I was pretty pumped to end up help bring the two points home.”
He also had a goal and an assist in that game.
Ellis last suited up for the Sabres in a six-game stint to start the 2012-13 season. He’s totaled 33 points (13+20) in 197 games with the Sabres since the team claimed him off waivers from the Los Angeles Kings in 2008. In 267 total NHL games with Buffalo, Los Angeles and Detroit, Ellis has amassed 41 points (16+25). He signed a two-year, two-way contract with the Sabres in July.
When looking to bring someone up to the Sabres, Nolan said that he and the coaching staff are looking deeper than inherent talent.
“It’s all in the details. I’ve always said, you look at Player B to Player C, the skill could not be that much of a difference, but the attitude and the approach and what you do every day and how you approach your work is what’s important to me. Finding strong character guys who are willing to do it on a consistent basis and that’s how win hockey games.”
Nolan attended the Amerks outdoor game and was extremely impressed with the spectacle of it all.
“When you go to an event, you’re watching the crowd more so than the reason why you’re there,” Nolan said. “It was just a great atmosphere to watch and you could see from afar, but talking to [Ellis] this morning, he said a number of times, he felt like a kid all over again out there on the ice. You could tell the players enjoyed themselves, the fans enjoyed themselves and I just thought it was a great event."
For Ellis, being able to play outdoors reminded him of growing up in Welland, Ont.
“It was just a great experience. I guess it brings you back to the purity of the game and back to when you were a kid again. From the second I stepped on the ice to practice two nights ago through morning skate and the game last night, it was just an amazing experience and something I’m never going to forget.”
Hodgson was a game-time decision due to his injury. He took the warmup and skated in line rushes with Ville Leino and Matt D’Agostini. However, it became apparent once starters and scratches were announced that he wasn’t ready to go.
“He was pretty close,” Nolan said. “He’s 80 percent. Playing this game at 100 percent is hard enough so we’re going to wait until he’s healthy.”
Hodgson hadn’t missed an NHL game since he became a regular with the Vancouver Canucks in 2011-12. He played 83 games that season after being acquired by the Sabres at the NHL Trade Deadline and played in all 48 of Buffalo’s games last year. He's now missed two straight.
Left wing Luke Adam and defenseman Mark Pysyk were also scratched for the Sabres.
Center Cody McCormick left the game 7:26 into the second period with an upper-body injury. After the game, Nolan said McCormick was being evaluated and he did not have update on his status.
Saturday was the first meeting between the Sabres and Flames since Nov. 14, 2011. Only six Sabres and five Flames remain on each team from that last game.
Calgary had not won in Buffalo since March, 15 1996. They claimed a 3-1 victory at Memorial Auditorium. Theo Fluery, Gary Roberts and German Titov scored for the Flames in that game. Matthew Barnaby tallied for Buffalo.