Cape Breton goaltender beats small town odds, signs NHL contract

20-year-old becomes first Cape Breton born goaltender to sign with an NHL franchise

A Cape Breton goaltender defied the odds of small town hockey players earlier this month when he became the first island-born goalie to sign a National Hockey League contract.

River Denys’ Colten Ellis, 20, put pen to paper on March 1 to agree to a three-year entry-level contract with the St. Louis Blues.

According to Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame CEO Bruce Rainnie, this marked the first time in recorded history that a Cape Breton born goaltender has been offered an NHL contract.

“It doesn’t even feel real to be honest,” Ellis said in a recent interview. “Obviously playing in the NHL is something that I grew up dreaming of but coming from a small community it was something that seemed so far out of reach. For it to become a reality is pretty hard to put into words.”

Growing up in River Denys, a community of only 60 residents, Ellis faced various obstacles when trying to make it to the big leagues.

Beginning when he was 10, Ellis would rely on his family members to help improve his skills in between the pipes. He’d often spend his free time doing drills or training at the local rink.

Ellis, who is the starting goaltender for the Charlottetown Islanders of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), spent countless hours travelling to camps and training sessions while growing up in hopes of improving his game.

Colten’s father, Brian Ellis, said in a 2020 interview that things were “really, really hard” for his son. “Where we live there’s basically nothing for goaltenders, so we did everything we could to help him get better,” Ellis said.

Brian Macinnis, president of Ellis’ midget team the Cape Breton West Major Midget Islanders, said that traveling is a hurdle many young Cape Breton hockey players face when trying to reach the next level in their hockey careers.

“For Colten, I really don’t think the travelling was something that affected him, he was firmly set on the goal he wanted to accomplish, and he didn’t let anything get in his way,” Macinnis said in an interview.

Hometown Support

Ellis, who is in his fourth and final year in the QMJHL, said having the opportunity to be signed by an NHL franchise is evidence that his hard work has paid off.

“Some people would ask me ‘where do you find your motivation from?’ being from a small community,” Ellis said. “I love to play hockey, so it was easy to wake up early and work out or go to a training session, I always had the motivation just from the support I had down home.”

Residents of River Denys and surrounding areas have followed Ellis’ journey over the past number of years, showing waves of support for their hometown boy by making social media posts, buying his jerseys, and attending his games. Locals say Ellis has gained somewhat of a celebrity status across the island.

“I don’t think people from home realize how much the support I get from them plays a factor in my motivation,” Ellis said. “There are so many people at home who send messages and send their support in their own way and it’s incredible to see. It makes me want to keep going and do it for everyone back home.”

Ellis’ contract will begin at the start of the 2021-2022 NHL season next October. He currently sits atop the QMJHL goalie rankings with a 16-1-0 record as well as a 1.89 goals against average and a .922 save percentage.

Brad Chandler

Brad Chandler

Brad Chandler is an aspiring video journalist from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia with a special interest in sports reporting and broadcasting. He has previously worked as a reporter for The Inverness Oran newspaper in Cape Breton since 2020 and now acts as a Media Correspondent for the U18 Cape Breton West Islanders hockey program.

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  1. Way to go Colton. You are a perfect role model for all the young people out there. You had a dream and you made it come true. It makes us Cape Bretoners very proud. Wishing you all the best in the future.

  2. Way to go Colton I have been watching you the last while,Very impressive Colton All the Best from all of us in East Bay Cape Breton.

  3. Congratulations young man the very best to you in the future from 1 caper to another

  4. All the best to you and congrats for the contract. Hard work pays off but your parents have as much to do with this accomplishment as your perseverance. Stay true to your roots!

  5. Excellent post but I was wanting to know if you could write
    a litte more on this subject? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit further.
    Bless you!

  6. Wow what a accomplishment to say the least, I come from a family of 4 goaltenders and know all too well how tough of a position that is. Congratulations to your family for all their commitment and hopefully AL McInnis can get you up in the big leagues. What a amazing record you have in the Q this year.

  7. Congratulations!!!
    Your Mom and Dad must be so proud so much hard work finally paying off. You are blessed with so much support from family and friends.. Stay humble and kind

  8. Cape Breton proud! Way to go. Will be watching you , for sure. All the best!

  9. That is awesome Colton, i go trout fishing up in River Denys , nice little spot there . Be proud of your accomplishment and keep on working hard to realize your dream of playing in the NHL . ST. Louis is a great organization , you will have a legitimate shot at winning a stanley cup there . Congratulations on signing an nhl contract and on becoming the first cape breton goalie to ever sign with an nhl club , you rock buddy . Go Get Em Colton .

  10. Young Mr.Ellis…This island could not be more proud…my cousin Johnny Murray , He used to do video for the Eagles since they came here…told me about you years ago to “Keep your eye on this kid…He is the real deal and he’s going to make it”. Wonderful to see he was right on point…Cheers To You and Your Family. Minor hockey is truly a family sport! Congrats!

  11. Congratulations Colton—so happy to read your hard work ethic has been rewarded—all the best in your new career — you will make Cape Breton proud

  12. Congratulations Colten. You should be so proud of yourself and your hard work. I am sure you will make everyone proud. Your hard work has paid off. Enjoy your dream. Living your dream is about to begin.

  13. WOW, WTG Colton. You have accomplished your dream. Cannot wait to watch you in the NHL. Congratulations and good luck your in your future.

  14. Wow Colton, good for you! Hard work does pay off!

    I will be watching for you with St. Louis!!

  15. So glad this dream has come true for you ! I watched you play in the Telus cup a few years ago and your performance there said there will be a lot more to this story . You sure earned it . All the best for a great career .

  16. Way to go Colton, you should be very proud as I’m sure all of Cape Breton Island is You are an inspiration to all the boys & girls that devote their lives to the Hockey Sport and give them more hope. Follow your dreams and never forget where you came from or the people that were your biggest support team. Congratulations Colton

  17. Congratulations. You will become a beautiful inspiration for our home cape breton island. Keep up the hard work.

  18. Congratulations Colton, so very proud of your accomplishment!
    I am sure not only your town is proud of you but Canada as well
    I hope for continued success in your dreams and aspirations! I am sure you will with the motivation you have !
    Way to go!!

  19. Congratulations Colton such a wonderful opportunity. I’m from Margaree, live in Massachusetts. So proud of you. Can’t wait to see you in the net. Of course you will be great, you’re Cape Bretoner.

  20. All the best to you young man!!! You already beat the odds now get out there and show them what you got…make Cape Breton proud!

  21. Way to go young man . Good for you . Your dreams came true . Stay safe because our world has changed. We’ll be watching you as your grow in a vibrant hockey player . Congratulations & good luck in your future

  22. Congratulations….Colton you are doing your family proud and the small village off River Denys although it’s big in area but small in population, even for the people who no longer live there but call River Denys their home, we stand with pride… go Colton and be the best you can be ….. coming from a loving and supportive family and community is the best of the best ….

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