Elliott: 'I'm just going to keep working at it'

December, 10, 2009

If you're not pulling for guys like Brian Elliott to make a go of it in the NHL, then you don't have a heart.

Here's a guy who was a ninth-round pick in the 2003 NHL draft (291st overall). They don't even have a ninth round in the NHL draft anymore.

But there he was Thursday night in Philadelphia, blanking the Flyers for his second career NHL shutout and his first this season.

"I've been under the radar in a lot of places," Elliott told ESPN.com over the phone from Philly after the Ottawa Senators' 2-0 win.

He grew up stopping pucks in rinks around southern Ontario but was overlooked by the Ontario Hockey League. So be it, he played Tier II hockey, was drafted late by the sharp-scouting Senators and took his act to the University of Wisconsin for four years. After two-plus seasons in the AHL, he made The Show last season after appearing in one game in 2007-08.

"Nobody really thinks anyone is going to go anywhere from the ninth round of the NHL draft," said 24-year-old Elliott. "But I felt inside, and I told my dad when I was drafted, 'It gives me an in.' When they draft you, they want you to succeed, and if you put in the work, you get rewarded with opportunities. I'm happy for it, and I'm just going to keep working at it."

Now, in his second NHL season, he has to prove he belongs. The Senators like Elliott but wanted a more proven netminder, so they brought in Pascal Leclaire at the trade deadline this past March.

"I didn't really know what to expect this year with Leclaire coming in and how the games would be split up," Elliott said. "But with the condensed schedule, you just knew there would be injuries, you can't stop that."

Leclaire was knocked out Nov. 21 by a freak injury, as a puck bounced off the glass while he was sitting on the bench in a backup role and fractured his cheekbone. He's expected back perhaps as early as next week. In the meantime, Elliott has made 10 straight starts with mixed results.

Entering Thursday's game at Philadelphia, Elliott was 2-5-1 on the road this season with a 3.61 GAA and .876 save percentage. He needed a statement game with Leclaire's return on the horizon. He delivered Thursday night with a 23-save shutout.

"You put pressure on yourself to be there for the guys and give them a chance to win," Elliott said. "It feels good to help them out."

Thanks to our ESPN stats man Vincent Masi, I can tell you Elliott was the first Sens goalie to shut out the Flyers since Patrick Lalime in October 1999 -- 10 years ago!

"Ha, ha … well, that's one of those facts that doesn't really mean anything, I don't think," Elliott said. "But I will tell you that it feels pretty good right now."

He was quick to credit his teammates -- a trademark thing for a hockey player to do.

"The guys in front were blocking shots like crazy," Elliott said. "[Mike] Fisher took a point shot right in the leg, and I don't think he got any padding on it. So it's great plays like that that win games."

If Leclaire isn't enough competition for underdog Elliott, he had better look behind him, as well. The Sens' front office is drooling over Swedish teenager Robin Lehner, who was picked 46th overall in this past June's draft. That would be the same Lehner who is among the league leaders in the OHL with the Soo Greyhounds this season with a .926 save percentage.

Your time is now, Mr. Elliott.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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