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A Conversation with Dan Ellis

September 3, 2008, 12:23 PM ET [ Comments]

Last night I had the opportunity to talk with Dan Ellis about hockey, his time in Nashville, and pretty much any other thing I could think of. Dan was nice enough to answer all my questions and here is the way our conversation went:

Felder: Last offseason you came to Nashville on a tryout basis. If I remember correctly it was down to going to Europe or Nashville correct?

Ellis: Yep. Early in the summer, after I finished my season in the minors with the Dallas organization, and at that point your not really sure if you’ve done enough to be noticed by other teams. You have to look at all your options. I wanted to play in the National Hockey League but I just didn’t know if I had caught anyone’s eye and be able to get myself an NHL contract. Looked into Europe, Sweden, Russia, and Switzerland and a number of places up there and when free agency came around we heard from Nashville and a couple other teams on that first day of free agency and I signed with Nashville within probably 24 hours of the opening of free agency.

Now if I’m being brutally honest, during that training camp I was there watching the scrimmages and things really didn’t appear to be going well for you. But then the pre-season games came around and you looked kinda like a completely different player. Was that going just through the adjustments during the scrimmages or was there something else to that?

Well, I know for a fact that my scrimmages, well I know there was one where I turned the puck over to J.P. and he put it in the empty net so obviously I made a few mistakes. Maybe I was a little bit nervous. You can see all the coaching staff along the glass watching you. For me it just came down to this was probably my last chance to make the NHL. So I had some nerves I guess when I was there and under the microscope but when you get into games you just worry about the game itself and focus on the puck. I was fortunate just to have a strong pre-season.

How did the Preds let you know that you had made the team as the backup in favor of Pekka Rinne, who at the time was the favored choice going into training camp and how did that moment occur for you?

Well they called me in, and I knew that training camp was winding down and it was getting down to those final meetings. Guys were getting called in and then either being sent to Milwaukee with their plane ticket or being told they are sticking around. Really it was a situation where that was more of a “bubble” situation cause most of their positions were pretty well picked. So they called me into office, I was nervous and obviously hoping for the very best. I tried to get a little insider information from Chris Mason before I went in to see if he could shed some light on the situation so I wasn’t so nervous going in. He just gave me a little bit of an insider that he thought I was in really good position going in there.

They just broke the news to me saying that I made the team and that I had a very strong camp and really turned their heads a little bit and gave them a reason to keep me up there, but not to get too comfortable because they did plan on having a rotation with both myself and Pekka going up and down. One guy would play backup for awhile and then play some games to stay fresh down in Milwaukee. That was basically the conversation, but they said you’re here to start the season and hope you do well. I just told them that I learned from the year before in a similar situation that carried out in Dallas with Mike Smith that they said the same things to us before camp, and they said there was going to be a rotation between Mike and I and there never was. So I just relayed to Barry and David Poile that I had learned from Mike Smith staying up all year and that’s what I planned to do.

The Nashville fan base has always had a special place for the backup (Mason, Vokoun, both were backups at one time and emerged to #1). When did you begin to feel that fan support that grew into many wanting you to be the #1 guy?

I think just as I continued to play games. I think the 1st six games I was able to win those and I think when you can provide some stability in goal and carve a name out for yourself a little, obviously an unknown going into the camp, I was buried in the minors and I don’t think anyone heard of me down there either so. You come in try to make a name for yourself and I think by winning, getting a shutout, and maybe beating Vokoun in that one game when he came back early in the season, you know all those things you gain a little trust with the fan base and then you start to feel their trust in response to their cheers and just people coming up to you in the community and encouraging you so it probably happened within that 1st six to ten games and from there it was all just gaining confidence and pushing forward the rest of the season.

What was the most difficult part of last season for you?

I think last season the one thing that was probably the most difficult is that I could be sent down (to the minors) at any time. There was never a sense of comfort and that if I knew that if I never could get comfortable it would be to my detriment. To basically be on a year long tryout, a lot of the guys are on the team, they’ve made the team and they are there the rest of the time, but for me, because I spoke of the rotation I never got a chance to relax all season. Maybe that was a good thing to push you a little bit further but you never know what could’ve happened if I had been a little bit more comfortable too.

To further that point, some started calling you “snowstorm” because suddenly just when it looked like things were going to get shaken up a snowstorm prevented Pekka Rinne from getting in town in time and then all of a sudden you had that long shutout streak. Do you think that was one of those moments where having that doubt might have pushed you to a better performance?

No, there was never any doubt for me, I just think it was a frustrating situation. I thought I had played pretty well throughout the season and I think up to that point I had only lost 7 games in regulation so I think my record should’ve spoke for itself at that point, but the coaching staff decided to make a different change and by the grace of God there was a snowstorm that prevented Pekka from starting that game against Chicago.

Maybe I played that game with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder but I had been pulled two games previous against Washington and then against Detroit. You know Washington was three quick goals in the 1st period, you let in the quick ones your going to be out. Against Detroit they didn’t score a 2nd time until later in the 2nd period. It never wavered in my confidence or my abilities to be able to win. I knew that if I was given a chance I could get this team to the playoffs because of being able to learn from my past. I’ve always been on teams that struggled to get to the playoffs but we always got there. With my belief in that I just pushed through. It was great to just be able to regain that confidence that was lost and then push forward to the playoffs.

That was your first experience in the NHL playoffs. Was it everything you had imagined it to be?

Yeah it was outstanding. To be able to have your first playoffs with a team that pushed so hard to get there and then playing against Detroit, the top team in the league and a team with so much history to begin on the road in their building. I mean everything was outstanding. To come home to the cheers in our building which was something I had never even heard of or could have imagined was an outstanding experience and I look forward to it again this year.

Your performance was rewarded with a new contract and #1 status. How rewarding was that to hear from David Poile that you had won a starting job and you were guaranteed to go into the NHL next season as a #1?

It’s great. I look at last season and going into camp looking at being the #3 guy, and being the first call-up going up, but then being able to gain the backup position, steadily throughout the season I was able to gain the starting the position and now I’m able to solidify one. There’s been a very quick progression and it usually doesn’t happen this quickly to go from #3 to #1 in one season, but in terms of going into next year I think it’s a great honor and something I want to improve upon. I want to try to learn from other people’s mistakes and to see what happened to Chris (Mason) last year going from #2 to #1 and then falling back into the #2 I’m going to try to learn from what happened to him. Whatever happens happens but you just want to be sure to not get totally comfortable but to push yourself even harder so that when you get up to being #1 you stay as a #1, you don’t drift back.

Last season it did appear that Chris Mason struggled, probably with the mental aspect of being a #1. Have you done anything personally to get ready for that?

Yeah, I have a mental coach that I work with and I’ve been working with him since my last season with Dallas. His name is Curtis Brackenbury, he used to play for the Edmonton Oilers back in the day, and he does some work with Marion Gaborik and a few others. He’s a power skating coach but he also teaches a lot towards the mental side. He really helped transform my game and my thinking when I was in Iowa. I was able to work with him again this summer and just deal with some of the challenges that are going to come with being #1, with coming off the season like we did, with pushing forward, with more upcoming expectations, overcoming more doubts, just a number of things and I feel like if you can deal with things before they happen, well when they do happen they’ll be that much easier.

This summer you came back to Nashville for just a little bit to be the grand marshal at the IRL racing event. What was that experience like to have your first experience with racing, and then also kind of be somewhat reaching out to the community being an ambassador for the game of hockey and the Nashville Predators?

It was great. I had never been to a race before. To get that honor itself was outstanding, to be a grand marshal at such a wonderful event. To get to meet the racers, to get to represent the Predators was all awesome. I loved every single minute of it. I had awesome access behind the scenes to be able to talk with the racers, go in one of the cars, to get close to the pits, to be able to talk to the Firestone/Bridgestone people and they explain every single aspect of racing to me was very informative and enjoyable. To be able to represent the Nashville Predators on a grand scale on national television again but in a different sport arena was wonderful and something that I hope I represented them well and encouraged the sport of hockey within other sports as well.

Are you moving to Nashville with the family or?

Oh no, my family is coming down. My wife is will be down with my new son, I just had a baby boy on the first day of the Olympics 08-08-08. My whole family will be coming down.

Oh, congratulations. Wow, so he’ll be lucky according to the Chinese.

Yeah, that’s what I hear.

They believe 8 to be an extremely lucky number and that’s why they started the Olympics on that day. So you’ll always be able to have that story to associate with your son that he’s a lucky charm.

Yeah I think so. He’s proven to be so far. Obviously he wasn’t out in the world last year but he was definitely a part of us all season long of the Nashville season so I look for him to continue to be that little charm for us.

In your experience with the community thus far, what have you liked the most about Nashville?

I just like the family atmosphere. I think the entire city has a real friendly feel to it. The people, the fans, even the people in the grocery store or a restaurant, anything like that, and people just treat people really well in Nashville. They are very kind, they are warm and loving. They just make it feel like home and I think that’s one of the things that strikes a lot of the Predators as players, people, and family members. You can come here and feel at home, you don’t feel like a hockey player you just feel like a regular person and that’s one of the nicest things about Nashville.

In a southern market there is still a need to “sell” the game of hockey. What many don’t realize is how committed the established fan base is. Do you find yourself having to defend the city to others in the hockey community and if so what do you generally tell them?

There are some things that people can point fingers to. We don’t have the numbers that maybe other teams do but it’s a different part of the U.S. The sport is still relatively new and we just as a team and a group have to continue to let people learn about the game of hockey and bring more people. I think that now that we have local ownership, they’ve done an incredible job at bringing back those local businesses, bringing back our local fan base and building it up. I think whenever people bad mouth Nashville I think they gotta look back and see during the playoffs that there wasn’t a better atmosphere in the entire NHL then there was in our building. It was the loudest building out there. Everyone can point fingers but I think you have to actually come here and experience a game before you can throw your jabs.

So far this summer what have you been doing with your time off?

Well right at the end of the season we usually like to go somewhere. It’s usually a time where we aren’t training, we’re taking a few weeks off just to let the body recover so we went to Mexico for a week-long and went down there with my in-laws. Then I went home and visited my family in Toronto. Then I came down to Nashville for those few days and other than that I’ve been kicking into high gear, getting trained and working out and preparing for another great season.

Many people are going to want to know if during the offseason you and the Preds trainer have done anything to work on the weight issues you experienced last season?

You know I actually put some personal phone calls into Gatorade and I’ve been speaking with their doctors and scientists. They didn’t have a ton of solutions but I think towards the playoffs, working with Dan Redmond and local doctors within the team, we were able to find some different things to keep my body temperature down a little more. I think a lot of it just has to do with body temperature getting so hot, so when you can make some adjustments to your equipment to allow some more breathability, and I was able to wear like an ice vest or cooling vest between periods which helps bring your core temperature down so your not sweating so much. Usually your walking around with different fluid intakes and you just have to find the mixture so that you can keep that weight on.

Or, the biggest thing that I’ve found is that if I put on more weight in the summer, when I lose weight it’s not down to a level that has any affect on performance. I’ve been able to keep my weight up a little higher, I think the highest was about 200 lbs and now I’m at about 195 so when you add 10 pounds on and you drop down to 185 it’s not a bid deal opposed to when your dropping down to 175 or 172 and that’s when you start getting into some little problems. I think we are well on our way for solving that and I don’t see it as a stumbling block or challenge at all this season.

How much will you miss the “on the bench” interviews with Pete and Terry this season? You had a lot of good chemistry with them last year.

Well I’ll still be back on the bench every now and then, hopefully not as much as I was last year though. I’ll be sure to have my conversations with those two. I get along really well with them, but if I make a few less appearances that’s obviously good cause that means I’m playing better and playing more often. I have great relationships with those guys and we’ll find a way to get a few segments out there.

You have been really easy to work with from a media standpoint from Day 1. Where does that natural ability to deal with media come from and do you think you might one day have a future in broadcasting?

Broadcasting and all that kind of stuff would be fun. My whole philosophy is that if people are going to take the time to talk to you then you take the time to talk to them. (Felder’s note: As evidenced by this 30 minute phone interview) Same thing as if people are going to wait around for your autograph you wait around just as much as them. I was a little kid too one day and I looked up to different hockey players and you never liked those guys that ditched out of there and made you wait around for nothing. So I’ve tried to remember my roots and treat people the way I would like to be treated. I just enjoy talking to people so it’s a piece of cake for me.

When you have time to just do whatever you want, what are your favorite things to spend that time doing?

I really enjoy golfing. Obviously my newest one would be spending time with my son and spending more time with my family. I’ve really found that getting to the golf course, spending good time with friends and family is right up there for me.

Chris Mason has told me that you are a bit of video game guy like me, is that true?

Yeah. I get together with the fellas on the plane and stuff and there is about 10 of us playing SOCOM on the PSP. We all link together and just have wars against each other, split up to teams so I’ve been known to play some video games now and then. I haven’t got into the new stuff cause you’ll learn that once you get married they don’t always like you playing that much.

Well are you going to get the new NHL 09 as soon as it hits stores like I am?

Well I’ll probably get it eventually. I don’t know if I’ll be there right away. I think the NHLPA has a whole bunch of copies so I’ll probably call them and see if they can send me one or something like that. I’ll check it out and see if my ratings have improved. It’s always fun to see what you get rated as.

What’s going to be interesting about this new game is there will be “Be a Pro” mode which of course includes being a goaltender. Basically your just one person on the ice at all times. Do you think you’ll do better in the real world or video game world?

Well I’m hoping to do better in the real world. If I played myself as a goalie in the video game it’d be pretty bad. I’ll stick to the real ice and let the computer control the video game me.

Training camp is coming up real quickly now. I appreciate your time and we’ll see you at training camp.

Sounds great. Thanks Brandon.

Once again I have to say thanks to Dan for taking the time to talk to me. Just like after the games, regardless of a win or loss, Dan was a pleasure to talk to. We obviously both like to talk… Hope you enjoyed the latest installment in my “A Conversation With” series. Hopefully I can continue the series a little more as we get closer to hockey season.

Till next time, take care.


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