Brian Elliott hasn't put those long bus rides in the rearview mirror just yet.
For the first time in his still-young career, the Ottawa Senators goaltender heads into a season holding down a regular job in the National Hockey League. But Elliott, the third-last player chosen (ninth round, 291st overall) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, isn't exactly taking any of it for granted. Not for a second, even with the security of a new two-year contract now in hand.
"You can't think that way," said Elliott, 24, who spent the first half of last season with the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League. "If you get complacent, that's when you start going back on those bus rides. You have to prove every day that you belong here.
"I think that's why I got to where I am right now. It's good to know that you're part of a group of guys that are trying to accomplish a common goal – not just trying to make the team, but getting to the playoffs and winning a Stanley Cup ultimately."
At the outset, at least, Elliott expected to spend the majority of the 2008-09 campaign with the B-Sens. But his strong play before Christmas – he was named one of the starting goaltenders for the AHL All-Star Classic – along with the Senators' slow start combined to earn the Newmarket, Ont., native a promotion to Ottawa. But by season's end, Elliott had basically become the Senators starter between the pipes, posting a 16-8-3 record, 2.77 goals-against average and .902 save percentage. It was an unexpected level of experience that he plans to use in the campaign to come.
"The stars had to align to do what I did last year," said Elliott, who capped a standout college career by backstopping the Wisconsin Badgers to the NCAA hockey crown in 2007. "Things were bad up here and things weren't clicking and I got an opportunity and ran with it. I reflected on that (over the summer) and saw that if I want to do the same thing, I just have to work the same way and prepare every day like you're starting the next game.
"I think I got a lot of experience and I feel really comfortable out there. The few periods I got in pre-season, I felt really good and really comfortable."
Elliott's teammates drew confidence from the calm demeanour he displayed when thrown into the fire of a Senators season that was shaken up by a coaching change a few weeks after his arrival in Ottawa.
"Brian was good," said Senators defenceman Chris Campoli. "He's steady, he's a young guy and he doesn't have a ton of experience, but he doesn't necessarily let that show. He plays with composure. Being put into the fire, so to speak, he handled himself pretty well.
"He's going to grow and continue to do that as a goalie and only get better. We're pretty fortunate to have a guy like that as a backup."
Not that Elliott thinks of himself in those terms. While Senators head coach Cory Clouston indicated Tuesday he expects starter Pascal Leclaire to log as many as 60 games worth of action in the coming season, Elliott isn't approaching things as a No. 2 guy.
"If you get complacent, that's when you start going back on those bus rides. You have to prove every day that you belong here. I think that's why I got to where I am right now. It's good to know that you're part of a group of guys that are trying to accomplish a common goal – not just trying to make the team, but getting to the playoffs and winning a Stanley Cup ultimately." - Brian Elliott
"I don't see it as a backup role," said Elliott. "We're partners out there and we've got to support each other, whoever's in net. Whatever I can do to help the team, that's my job, really. There's no term to describe it. Just help the team in whatever way you can."
His daily routine stays the name, regardless of whether he's playing or not.
"I practise and play like I am the starting goalie," said Elliott. "You have to have that mindset. If you come to practice thinking 'I'm not going to play for another six or seven nights,' that's not good. You have to have healthy competition at the other end, making a big stop in practice and forcing (Leclaire) to do the same.
"Healthy competition is the key to having success as a goaltending tandem."
Clouston is counting on both of his goaltenders to step up when their name is called.
"We feel very confident and comfortable in either one of those goaltenders," he said. "As of right now, Pascal is our No. 1 goalie. He's going to be carrying the bulk of the load and we need Brian, when he's called upon, to be very solid. There's no reason why he can't be.
"The nice thing is, we've got two good goaltenders. If one is playing better or poorer than the other one, somebody else can pick up the slack."