Before arriving to the NHL, Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis was best known for his success in the Canadian Hockey League.
Ellis had a decorated four-year stint with the Windsor Spitfires and won back-to-back Memorial Cups, the CHL’s equivalent of the Stanley Cup. The pint-sized blue-liner also won a gold medal with Canada at the World Junior Championships in 2009.
In the just-completed first round against Detroit, Ellis made his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut for Nashville and did not look fazed by the moment – mostly because he’s already had experience playing on the big stage.
“Any sort of experience, especially winning, is key,” said Ellis, who recorded 35 and 38 postseason points in 2009 and 2010, respectively, for Windsor. “World Juniors, Memorial Cups – if you go the distance each time you see what it takes and you face adversity. Those experiences definitely helped me.”
Predators head coach Barry Trotz added, “Anytime you’re at any level when you’ve won and have played on the big stage, you do feel more comfortable – even at the next stage.”
Most NHL rookies have trouble adjusting to the spike in intensity and determination when the playoffs roll around. Ellis, who played in three games in the first round, is one of a few Predators that have not had that problem.
“Hockey’s hockey wherever you play it, but there are just bigger, smarter, faster guys up here,” said Ellis, who was named the CHL Player of the Year just a year ago. “When you go through adversities – injuries, overtime losses, heartbreaks – you understand what it takes to win.”
In total the Predators have eight players that played in the Memorial Cup Tournament before getting to the NHL, four who went on to win the prestigious tournament.
Nick Spaling and Matt Halischuk, teammates with the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers from 2006 to 2008, both said that their respective experiences in the Memorial Cup Tournament – which included an appearance in the championship game – helped adjust quickly when making their Stanley Cup Playoff debuts in recent years.
“It definitely helped to know what that time of year is about,” said Spaling. “You know what it takes, what kind of sacrifice you have to make. It’s another step up and the level of play just keeps going up.”
Halischuk added, “A lot of experiences are different, so you just take them all in and learn from them. … Everybody steps it up no matter what at playoff time, no matter what league it is. It’s an exciting time of the year.”
Two postseason rookies this spring have been able to draw to their major-junior experiences. One is Ellis, Memorial Cup champion in 2009 and 2010; the other is Gabriel Bourque, who played in the 2010 Memorial Cup Tournament and recorded three goals in his first Stanley Cup Playoff series.
“It’s been a great learning experience to come in and see some action, see what it takes,” Ellis said. “You watch some of the older guys – Suter, Weber, Legwand; they’ve obviously been to the playoffs before and won.”
With the second round on the horizon, the Predators will be reliant on their youngsters to continue their smart, effective play.
“This is the best time of year, everybody plays the entire regular season just to be here. There are only a select few teams that can and you want to be the one going the distance. It’s fun to be a part of,” Ellis said.
“It’s a good time to be a Predator. We’re having fun.”
(Headline slider picture credit: Sarah Fuqua)