Friday, March 30, 2012

Elliott has Long Been Able to Beat the Odds

By Larry Wigge

Brian Elliott has been impregnable not only to opponents ... but even his teammates have been complaining for the last few months.

"He's been lights out in practice recently," said veteran St. Louis right winger Jamie Langenbrunner said following a 3-0 victory over Nashville March 27. "Some days he doesn't even give us a sniff."

"I've got quite a few pucks lodged in his glove hand ... when I was in college at Minnesota State and here," laughed Blues captain David Backes.

It was Elliott's third consecutive shutout --  his ninth this season, a Blues record. The shutout lowered his goals-against average to 1.48 and save percentage to .943. It sent his record was 23-9-3.

Funny thing goaltending. Some times your goalie can't stop a beach ball and other times ... 

The former Newmarket, Ontario, native, was supposed to battle for the backup goaltender's spot with Ben Bishop when he came to training camp -- earning a paltry $600,000. The lowdown on Elliott was that his record at Ottawa last season was 13-19-8 with a 3.19 goals-against average and at Colorado 2-8-1 record with a 3.83 GAG.

Elliott went back of Madison, Wis., where he and his wife Amanda reside. Hockey never really ended for Brian. He wanted to find some answers. He felt like a golfer who couldn't get rid of the shanks. He needed a swing doctor.

At Wisconsin, there are some very spirited hockey games during the summer with the Badgers and former Badgers.

"I had to get back at it ... had to," Elliott said. "I had to find the answers to my problems."

Luckily for Elliott there was Shane Connelly. He was Brian's backup goalie with the Badgers -- and has now gone on the become the goaltending coach at Bowling Green State University.

"Shayne worked with me hard," Elliott said. "He knew everything I did when I was on my game."

With the rest of the alums joining the Badgers summer practices in July or shortly thereafter, it was important to Elliott not to give in to his friends.

Friends like San Jose's Joe Pavelski, Dallas' Adam Burish and Jake Dowell and Nashville's Craig Smith.

"I didn't want them scoring against me," Elliott said, emphatically. "There is a certain level of pride you have to get to the NHL. You don't want to end on that note. It's hard to make it to the NHL and even harder to stay

"I just had to get back to the basics. Not get too down on myself. I knew I was off. But it's a game of inches. It's a matter of following the puck." 

Elliott's career has had its ups and downs. He was the 291st selection by Ottawa in the ninth round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft -- that was next to last player picked. 

"But when somebody sees something in you, you want to prove them right," Elliott said. "Being drafted in the ninth round, that was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. If I didn't get drafted that year, I wouldn't have gone to Wisconsin. That connection wouldn't have been made."

To the positives, Brian won the NCAA hockey championship in 2006 as a junior with the Badgers. 

Elliott is a save maker as a goalie, not just a shot blocker. That's what his buddy Shane Connelly tried to show him.

"He is a very competitive guy," said Connelly. "He's not rah-rah. He's really calm, but he hates giving up goals. You could just see how much it burned him.

"But he really had to fight for this. And if you put Brian Elliott in a battle, he's going to come out a winner."

It takes a lot -- to accept a demotion -- in order to succeed in the end. That's why he chose the Blues. 

"It's a tough pill to swallow on that day," he said. "But I've had to work for everything I've had, so I just figured that it was another time to work. I was pretty confident that I could do it again."

Elliott's father, Bill, is a television director, who has worked on numerous Canadian television programs -- including The Red Green Show. Brian takes a rather hard look at things. Just like his father.

Reality is something St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock added.

"I don't think what we're seeing is an accident or a fluke or just the puck hitting him," said Hitchcock. "He's a perfect example for perseverance. One of the things that you learn about 'Ells' is he's a really good listener. He's resurrected a career based on being able to look in the mirror and make adjustments."

Elliott understands. The success of goaltending is not just about technique, but also the psychology of the position. He watched Ed Belfour and Curtis Joseph and growing up, two supremely active goalies.

"The mental part is huge," he said. "You have to stay loose. If you lose a game you can't get too down on yourself. There is always a next opportunity to get back in there to prove what you can do.

"As a goaltender you sometimes put all the blame on yourself. The media and the fans can also blame you. But as a goaltender you have to realize it's a team game. If your team is playing well in front of you and you're playing well than there is a good chance you're going to win."

Like other goalies, prior to a match he will skip rope, play some hallway soccer with teammates and juggle tennis balls.

"The juggling," he says of his fun time away from the pressure of stopping pucks coming at him at 100 mph, "doesn't give me the chance to think too much about anything other than the tennis balls."

There is everything about Brian Elliott to like. His work ethic. His keen perspective of the goaltender position. And the juggling.

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