In terms of tryouts, this one seems to be going pretty well.
Checkers goalie Dan Ellis, an NHL veteran who joined the team on a professional tryout contract just prior to training camp last month, won the CCM/AHL Player of the Week award on Monday. Ellis did not allow a goal in two appearances, including 15 saves in relief on Friday that helped the Checkers erase a 4-1 deficit, and a 27-save shutout on Saturday.
In his first four AHL games since he was a member of the Iowa Stars in 2007, Ellis, 32, has a 1.07 goals-against average and .967 save percentage, both of which lead all league goaltenders that have played more than one game. Dating back the first period of the Oct. 20 game at Rockford, Ellis has not allowed a goal in over 144 minutes of game action.
Having suffered a groin injury and subsequent sports hernia that limited him to 10 games last season, Ellis, a veteran of five NHL campaigns with Dallas, Nashville, Tampa Bay and Anaheim, can hardly believe how things have gone to this point.
“I’m surprised that I feel as good as I do,” said Ellis, who, prior to this season, had not played a game at any level since Dec. 29. “I thought it might take a while to feel things out, but I’m 100 percent health-wise”
"He’s been sharp every time we've called on him," said coach Jeff Daniels. "He’s a calming presence for us back there, and that comes with experience. He’s seen the good and the bad and he knows how to focus on the game."
The Checkers are off to the best start in the AHL with a record of 6-1-1, with Ellis playing a key role. The team is has earned at least one point in each of his appearances (3-0-1), a streak they’ll likely be looking to continue when they take on Milwaukee on Wednesday. If coach Jeff Daniels was to stick to what has been close to an even rotation between Ellis and Peters, Ellis would be next in line.
“The fast start that our team is on makes it easier,” said Ellis. “It seems like a group that’s been around for a while, and they know the coach and what they have to do. Whenever you have a group like that it makes it not so much of a transition but trying to build on what you did last year.”
Despite becoming the third Checker to receive an in-season honor since the team joined the AHL for the 2010-11 season (teammates Zach Boychuk and Justin Peters, who have won Player of the Week and Goalie of the Month awards, respectively, are the others), Ellis’ future still isn’t certain.
The Checkers have 25 games before Ellis’ tryout expires, at which point they could simply sign him to another. The other options are to sign him to an AHL deal or release him, both of which could occur at any time.
“It’s still the same deal,” said Ellis. “The season is full of ups and downs, and I’m still on a contract that doesn’t have job security. You have to prove yourself on a daily basis.”
So far, so good.