FRISCO, Texas — Considering that the Dallas Stars are just one game into the 2013-14 regular season, it might be at least a week before Stars fans get their first glimpse of backup goaltender Dan Ellis between the pipes.
Ellis, 33, is a veteran netminder who started his career in the Dallas organization as the 60th overall pick in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft and who also made his league debut with the Stars on Feb. 8, 2004 against the Kings, stopping 25 shots to earn the win in a 4-3 victory over LA.
He has also played for the Predators, Lightning, Ducks and Hurricanes since and even spent part of last season in the minors, but took such an assignment like the true professional he is and definitely made the most of his time in the American Hockey League (AHL).
But now he’s back in Dallas to serve as Kari Lehtonen’s backup and the seasoned goalie couldn’t be happier with making his return to the Stars organization, one he last played in during the 2006-07 season when he started 55 games for the Iowa Stars, then the club’s top minor league affiliate.
“No, it’s great to be back. When I had the chance to look at teams that were in need of a goaltender, I saw that Dallas might be looking for one and they were first on my list. This is a place that I started my career. I was drafted by them and spent four years in the organization and just loved every minute of it previously,” Ellis said.
He added: “So it was definitely something I wanted to come back to. Having the stability that they have now with ownership and coaching and management just seems like the perfect time to come back and be part of something special.”
Returning to Big D not only allows him to begin a second stint with the Dallas organization, but it also reunites him with Stars goaltending coach Mike Valley, someone he got to know during his time with Nashville, when Valley was the goalie coach for the Predators’ AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals.
“What he brings to us is an extremely high work ethic that he has. He brings a lot of experience. He’s played the different roles, so he’s been the No. 3 guy that’s trying to get up to the NHL. He’s been the No. 2 guy and he’s been a No. 1 guy and he’s played with a lot of different goaltenders, so he’s kind of learned the different styles,” Valley said. “He’s a calming presence not only for the team to have as a second guy but for Kari to have as a partner as well which helps a lot. That experience that he has just playing in the different teams helps Kari and just fits right in.”
Ellis has worked with his share of goalie coaches during his decade-plus in the professional ranks and even though he and Valley have only been working together for a short period of time, he has already developed a solid bond with the Stars goaltending coach.
“He’s been great. I think the three of us [he, Lehtonen and myself] have a really good relationship together on and off the ice. Very lighthearted and but very professional as well, so it’s a nice mix. I think we’re all really comfortable with each other,” Ellis said. “Vals is a good mix of being a technical goalie coach but also one that’s not overly technical, one that doesn’t change you too much. So, he allows Kari to play the way he wants to play and me the way I want to play. He’s just a guy that sets up good drills to make sure that you’re comfortable and confident, so it’s been a very good working relationship so far.”
And as someone who has been between the pipes for as long as he can remember, this seasoned netminder is definitely a card-carrying member of what is called the “Goalie Union,” something he’s experienced at his various stops in both the NHL as well as in the minors. However, he admits the relationship between him, Lehtonen and Valley is especially close, a bond he can definitely appreciate.
“As a whole though in terms of the two goalies and the goalie coach it’s probably tighter than most places because Valley is really a personable person. He’s not solely worried about his job. He’s here to help us with ours and I think when you can put yourself in a position to kind of almost serve your players, the comfort level grows, the respect level from us to him grows and it becomes someone you really want to work for as opposed to someone you’re just working with,” Ellis said. “So it’s been wonderful so far.”
Once the Stars complete their current two-game homestand against the Washington Capitals on Saturday, Dallas will then hit the road for a three-game road swing that will take them to Winnipeg, Minnesota and Colorado before returning to the Metroplex.
More than likely, Ellis could get the nod in the middle game of that trip against the Wild, especially with that contest in the Twin Cities being on the second night of a back-to-back after the Stars face the Jets one night earlier in Winnipeg.
But no matter when he makes his second Dallas debut, Dan Ellis is a welcome addition to the Stars for a number of reasons, a move that not only No. 1 goaltender Kari Lehtonen figures to benefit from, but the entire roster as well because this is a guy who has definitely been around and seen plenty in his hockey travels, and all that experience he has gained along the way carries with it some very valuable lessons for his new teammates.