11/06/2012 9:01 AM
Story By: Stuart McComish
HAMILTON, Ont. – Morgan Ellis rang in 2012 making a move from the lower reaches of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to the top.
On December 31st Ellis, in his fourth QMJHL season, was traded from the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles to the Shawinigan Cataractes, among the league’s top teams and hosts of the Memorial Cup.
Defenceman Ellis, a native of Summerside, P.E.I., had been a third-round choice of the Screaming Eagles in the 2008 QMJHL Entry Draft and played 211 games for Cape Breton, recording 19 goals and 71 assists for 90 points. He was the Screaming Eagles’ captain at the time of the trade.
“I loved all my time in Cape Breton,” Ellis said after a recent Hamilton Bulldogs practice at Copps Coliseum. “I was treated so well there. I really respected them for what they had done for me and they gave me a chance to go to Shawinigan and have a crack at the Memorial Cup.”
A fourth-round choice of the Montreal Canadiens in the 2010 National Hockey League Entry Draft, Ellis joined fellow Canadiens prospect and current Bulldogs teammate Michael Bournival in Shawinigan. The Cataractes finished with the second-best regular-season record behind the Saint John Sea Dogs, but were eliminated in seven games in the second round of the playoffs by the Chicoutimi Sagueneens.
“Going into the playoffs we were considered among the favourites along with Saint John and going out in the second round was not part of the plan,” said Ellis, who contributed 27 points, including eight goals, in 26 regular-season games for the Cataractes as well as four goals and 11 points in as many playoff games on his way to earning the Kevin Lowe Trophy as the league’s best defensive defenceman.
“There were plenty of people who counted us out of the tournament before we got knocked out and then once we were out of the playoffs they didn’t think we had any chance. But the coaches had a plan and that month off was a tough one, we battled hard every day to make sure we were in good shape for the tournament.”
Playing before a raucous hometown crowd, the Cataractes dropped their first game, falling 4-3 to the Edmonton Oil Kings, champions of the Western Hockey League, and beat the London Knights, champions of the Ontario Hockey League, 6-2, but a 4-1 loss to the QMJHL-champion Sea Dogs sent them to the tiebreaker game against the Oil Kings.
“That first game was a little tough, we had to work to get our feet moving and our timing down, but after that we got better as the games went on,” said Ellis. “We lost our first game and once we beat London that gave us a chance to get in the tiebreaker. That was what we needed, that was the chance we needed and everybody stepped up.”
Ellis contributed two points, including a goal, in a 6-1 triumph over the Oil Kings and added an assist in a 7-4 semifinal win over the Sea Dogs and another assist in the Cataractes’ 2-1 overtime win over the Knights in the final that gave the club its first Memorial Cup.
“The final was a tough game that could have gone either way. They jumped on us early, but we stuck with it and came out on top. It was a great experience for me, not just to be in the Memorial Cup, but to host it and win it. I had been on one of the bottom teams in the league. We worked hard, but we just didn’t have a lot of success, but then I ended up in Shawinigan which had so many great players. It made things a whole lot easier.”
Ellis, who played one exhibition game with the Canadiens in 2011, missed some of the Bulldogs’ training camp at Sherbrooke, Que. with a lower-body injury. He made his pro debut on October 23rd in a 3-1 loss to the Rochester Americans at Buffalo, New York
“I didn’t take part in much of the camp, but it was intense and fast. Guys are fighting for jobs here and they want to make this team. It’s competitive. In junior you usually had an idea who would be on your team before camp started. Here, you never know who might get cut, that’s hockey. There are always guys who want your spot and you have to work harder than them to keep it. It’ll be like that for a long time.
“The lockout will make the AHL so much better and even watching our games I saw guys who could be up and down between here and the NHL, just like here.”
Ellis said the speed of the game at the pro level would be the biggest adjustment he would have to deal with.
“You always want to learn and you have to make your plays quicker. I have to always be moving my feet and closing gaps. It will take a little time to get used to the speed. I try to keep my game simple. There are a lot of big guys in this league who have been in the pros for a while and have that experience. I have to take advantage of the help I can get from the coaching staff.”
Ellis, who turned 20 on April 30th, is one of a number of young players on the Bulldogs roster.
“It’s a little different being a younger guy, it’s the pros and a new league, but it’s not like going to junior as a 16-year-old. You know a whole lot more. The guys have been great, there are a lot of new faces here. I’m looking forward to getting the season going.”
The Bulldogs, 4-2-1-1 to date in the regular season, meet the Syracuse Crunch in two games this week. The Bulldogs host the Crunch at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and the teams will square off in a neutral-site game at Montreal at 7:30 p.m. Friday.