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Solid Attitude

by Staff Writer / Dallas Stars
Entering training camp this past September, the Dallas Stars had decided that their backup goaltender for the 2006-07 season would be a prospect from the club's farm system, rather than a veteran free agent. The head-to-head training camp battle between goaltenders Mike Smith and Dan Ellis was a heated one, with Smith narrowly winning the job just days before the regular season would commence and Ellis heading to the Iowa Stars.

Smith went on to have a solid rookie season, posting a shutout in his NHL debut and twice being named the league's Third Star of the Week. And rather than becoming dejected about another season in the minors, Ellis took the proverbial bull by the horns and posted a career year, serving notice that he's ready to make the jump to the NHL.

Ellis collected career-highs in wins (30), games (55), minutes played (3,194), and shutouts (4) in 2006-07, good for fourth in the AHL in victories and ninth in shutouts. The native of Orangeville, Ont., posted three four-game winning streaks, as well as a five-game stretch of wins, and was selected by his Iowa teammates as the club's Most Valuable Player.

"Dan Ellis showed me a lot this season and he was really strong mentally," said Scott White, Iowa's Director of Hockey Operations. "He took some big steps this year, really making the most of his opportunity here and doing everything in his power to take his game to a new level, which is what I like to see. He was mentally able to overcome some adversity and he was an important factor in us getting into the playoffs and then making a run. I couldn't put a date on it, but come January, he just took over and there was no hesitation on his part. He grabbed that starting spot and ran with it."

Iowa Head Coach Dave Allison points to a game on February 10 that the club dropped at home to Grand Rapids, as the night Ellis really turned the corner for the Stars -- both in the sense of mental preparation for his day-to-day role, as well as for his career as a whole. In what Allison described as a "crossroads" game for the club, Ellis and Iowa surrendered a 3-1 lead to Grand Rapids and ending up losing, 5-3. But it was Ellis' post-game reaction in a closed door meeting with his head coach that really sold Allison on his netminder's mental state.

"That was the first night Danny Ellis quit looking at other people to find solutions for him," said Allison. "We were asking ourselves, do we need to find another solution, or can Danny do this for us? I went in and asked him one question: 'If you had to retire right now, what would your regrets be?' And the answer he gave me was the first time I really believed he was ready to take responsibility and not look at other people. When he finally took ownership of the outcome of each individual save, I said to him, 'OK, you're our guy and we go as far as you take us.' You have to have courage to realize what you need to change, and Danny Ellis took responsibility that night and showed great courage, because it's really difficult to say that we're not perfect. He said he was ready to take responsibility and from that point on, he was outstanding for us." visited with Ellis during Iowa's AHL Playoff run to get his thoughts on his 2006-07 season, his relationship with Stars' Development Coach Andy Moog and his mindset heading into the summer. How do you view your play this season, and what kind of progress do you feel like you've made in 2006-07?

Ellis: "I feel great about my game. Last year, I felt like I had a good season, but Smitty (Mike Smith) had a good season and really took the ball and ran with it. This year, I've been given that opportunity and I feel like I've done the same. Getting to the second round of the AHL Playoffs is a great accomplishment for a very young team, and losing so many guys -- going up to Dallas, as well as injuries -- has shown quite a bit of character. We've picked it up and played great. I feel like my game is really progressing and I can be considered a solid starter, whereas last year and before, I was looked at more of a backup. It gives me great confidence going into next season." Do you feel like you've taken your game to the next level, where you're ready to make a jump to the NHL?

Ellis: "This season definitely gives me a lot of confidence, and I view myself as a goaltender that has finally conquered this league. In years past, I felt like I had done well, but now I have a 30-win season under my belt and that gives me a lot of confidence. One blessing I had this season was that I gave up a lot of goals early, so I wasn't worried about my goals-against (average) or my save percentage. All I cared about were the wins, and that's ultimately what gets you into the playoffs and wins you championships. We'll see where it takes me. I feel great right now and I feel like I'll have great confidence going up against whichever goalies are in training camp next season." How difficult was the news for you, coming out of training camp, that you were heading back to the minors?

Ellis: "Personally, once I was sent down, I just tried to accept the fact that Dallas had made a decision to go with Smitty and Marty (Turco). I was happy for their success, and it was great to see Smitty go up and have success at the NHL level after five years as a pro. They both had a great year and Marty was phenomenal in the playoffs. For me, I considered myself an Iowa Star this year and I just worked on what I could do here to help this team win. That's the way I viewed my role and I didn't really look to go up right away. I wasn't focused on what was happening in Dallas, I just wanted to make sure all my concentration was on improving here and helping Iowa win hockey games." How influential has Andy Moog been in your development throughout the Stars' minor league system?

Ellis: "Whenever Mooger is in town, we always have really good, productive talks. He's been absolutely awesome since the second I came into the Dallas organization and he's a guy that's played the position and knows it extremely well. He's extremely easy to talk to, and he's always got great little pointers that seem to make a big difference. He's been a real help to my game and it's nice to have a guy like that around to bounce ideas off of. He always goes the extra mile to help me, on and off the ice." How meaningful was it for you to defeat the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights in the first round of the AHL Playoffs, after your stellar collegiate career at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and a successful stint with the USHL Omaha Lancers?

Ellis: "It is always special for me to play in Omaha. The way I looked at that series was a seven-game home series because I played my entire college career in that building. To play and beat a team that was first in the Western Conference, where we were the obvious underdogs, it was a great feeling for myself and the team. It showed a lot of character and it shows we can play with and beat the top teams in the league. I have a lot of great memories from that rink, and beating them in the first round is definitely one of them." In closing, here's a fun question for you... With some years in Omaha in your background, might you explain what Ak-Sar-Ben means? (Editor's note: The Knights' parent club, Calgary, announced plans last week to move to Moline, Ill., where they will be known as the Quad Cities Flames.)

Ellis: "Ak-Sar-Ben is basically just Nebraska spelled backwards. For some reason, they like to spell the state's name backwards in a number of different things, so you'll see Ak-Sar-Ben Plumbing or Ak-Sar-Ben Used Cars, so it's something within the history of the city. They used to have a pro team there called the Omaha Knights, so with the new franchise, they tied in the Ak-Sar-Ben part."

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