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
March 23, 2021, 3:08 pm ADTLast Updated: March 23, 2021, 3:08 pm
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.
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.
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