Two styles, one goal

by Brian Bosma || AHL On The Beat Archive

Good cop, bad cop.

Yin and yang.

Matt Ellis and Darryl Bootland.

The Grand Rapids Griffins teammates have played side-by-side for the last nine seasons, a friendship that stretches back to their 1998-99 junior campaign as members of the St. Michael’s Majors.

Ellis is the quiet captain who lets his play do his talking, a nose-to-the-grindstone type with an underrated touch around the net.

Bootland is the vocal showman, a pugnacious pest with a knack for scoring the big goal.

With opposite yet complementary personalities, the two longest-tenured Griffins hope to use their distinctly different styles to lead their team into the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Since early in the 2003-04 season, the Griffins have played only two games without the services of either Ellis or Bootland, as the duo has racked up numerous records on the way to becoming team leaders and fan favorites.

The roots of their current roles can be traced to their four seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, when they were not only teammates but road roommates.

“I was more quiet and [kept] to myself, while Booter was always the life of the party,” said Ellis.

“The first time I saw (Ellis),” countered Bootland, “he was only 16 and looked like he belonged in the theater.”

But as their styles continued to develop, it was Bootland, not Ellis, who showed an ability to act on the ice. Bootland’s vocalism and antics quickly endeared him to fans when he joined the Griffins in February 2003. Fans saw him as a lovable enforcer, willing to sacrifice himself physically for his teammates.

Not surprisingly, this style of play did not come without its consequences, as Bootland piled up the penalty minutes. In fact, he picked up penalties in such a prolific manner that last season he became the team’s all-time leader in sin-bin time, and earlier this season crossed the 1,000-PIM threshold.

“Though it is an honor to top a list of so many Griffins greats, it was obviously not my goal,” said Bootland. “But I guess it’s something to show the kids.”

As quickly as he gained a reputation as an enforcer, so too did he develop into one of the most “money” players in the AHL, backing up his style of play by stepping it up when the game is on the line. Currently second all-time in game-winning goals for the Griffins with 18, Bootland knows that being clutch is an important part of his game. And that ability, perhaps more so than his pugilism, has helped place him in a position of leadership with the Griffins.

bootland_200.jpgEllis has found success a different way. For example, as the linchpin of the Griffins’ penalty killing unit, he is known for putting his body in harm’s way and anticipating his opponents’ actions. Ellis’ heightened instincts and ability to capitalize on his opportunities have enabled him to set the franchise’s career record with 11 shorthanded goals.

His work ethic, whether reflected in his uncompromising play on the ice or his dedication in the weight room, was rewarded in October 2005 when he was named the youngest captain in Griffins history at the age of 24.

“Wearing the ‘C’ is an absolute honor,” said Ellis. “I get the chance to represent an amazing locker room of players and coaches.”

With his increased leadership responsibilities has come increased scoring, as he recently notched his first AHL hat trick and became just the fifth player in Griffins history to record back-to-back 20-goal seasons. This, after totaling only 23 goals during his first two seasons in Grand Rapids.

Even the physical aspects of Ellis’s game should not be overlooked, asserts Bootland, in ways that go beyond finishing checks and crashing the crease. “You might not see it much now, but he will drop the gloves if he has to.”

“Darryl and I continue to learn from each other,” said Ellis. “I’ve learned to be more vocal, and I think Booter, too, has picked up some of my habits.”

Another thing the duo share is the strong desire to play in the NHL. Bootland had a 22-game audition with the Detroit Red Wings in 2003-04 but has yet to return, while Ellis finally received his opportunity earlier this season, making his debut in five games with the parent club.

But for both players, selfish individual ambitions lay far from their minds.

“Individual success comes as a result of team success,” said Ellis, and that was never more apparent than last season. The Griffins took home the AHL’s best regular season record in 2005-06 and advanced to the Western Conference Finals, with Bootland and Ellis both enjoying career years.

Bootland became the first AHL player in 11 years to post 20 goals and 300 penalty minutes – finishing with personal bests of 27 and 390, respectively – and came up big in the playoffs with five goals and seven assists. Ellis, meanwhile, enjoyed his most productive AHL campaign with 20 goals, 28 assists and 48 points, setting the stage for what has been an even better 2006-07 season. The reigning CCM Vector/AHL Player of the Week ranks among the league leaders in shorthanded goals, game-winning goals and shots, and places second on the Griffins with 41 points.

Though the success of the team does not solely rely on the success of Bootland and Ellis, the two more often than not go hand-in-hand. And as the Griffins fight for the playoffs, they’ll continue looking to their leaders, be it the quiet captain or vocal enforcer, to take them to new heights.