By Ryan Holt | AHL On The Beat
“Crab cakes and football, that’s what Maryland does.”
But if you talk with Bakersfield Condors second-year netminder Nick Ellis, you could probably change the popular Wedding Crashers line to “Hot cakes and hockey.”
“Christmas breakfast was always big growing up. We’d have these delicious hot cakes that was a special recipe from my great-grandmother,” Ellis said. “Dinner was something like ham or turkey, but I don’t really remember anything but those hot cakes.”
Growing up just south of Baltimore in Millersville, Maryland, Ellis has an appreciation for the gifts he’s been given, but even more so around the holidays.
“If it wasn’t for my family, I definitely wouldn’t be here,” he said. “We traveled a lot growing up (and started playing) and they spent a lot of time and a lot of money for me to play this game. It’s been nice to reward them by playing professionally and knowing that they have a smile on their face knowing I’m living out my dream.”
For Ellis, the dream started going to Washington Capitals games where he would watch the likes of Olaf Kolzig to gain an appreciation for not only the sport, but the position. He’d study his movement and focus on how the goaltender went about the game.
After a brief stint at forward, Ellis began to work with a goalie coach at the age of seven and later moved away for high school to play at Pomfret Prep School in Connecticut. Then it was on to the Des Moines Buccaneers of the United States Hockey League before eventually joining Providence College. There, he won a national championship and rewrote the team’s goaltending record books.
It was the risk of leaving home, changing surroundings as a teenager, that ultimately landed Ellis his dream of playing professionally.
“I realized that to get notice, a lot of teams are in the northeast and knew that if I went there I would get more exposure,” he said. “It’s a great sport and I think now more kids are getting the opportunity back home to play locally. Everyone should have the opportunity, because it’s something that personally has changed my life forever.”
If step one of the dream was to play professionally, then step two would be to play in the NHL. Though he didn’t get to play in an NHL game with Edmonton during a recent two-week call-up, Ellis soaked in the experience.
“Seeing what it was like up top is something that will definitely help me in the future,” Ellis remarked. “The guys in the NHL shoot a little faster and a little harder. I was able to work with Dustin Schwartz (Oilers goaltending coach) a lot when I was up there and he was able to see at an NHL practice what areas of my game I could improve upon to get better.”
The humble kid from Maryland will continue to improve with the goal of playing in the NHL still very real as he backstop the Condors.