Saturday, March 22, 2008

Dave Ellett

They say all sports heroes secretly want to be rock stars. But I think a lot of hockey players secretly yearn to be a cowboy. And quite a few attempt the lifestyle after hockey.

There is definitely something about former NHLers and horses. Wayne Gretzky bought into a stable of thoroughbreds. Many others (Keith Jones, Curtis Joseph for example) had ownership of at least one thoroughbred championship horse, and many others (Wendel Clark, Brent Sutter, Tom Lysiak to name a few) had farms. Larry Robinson liked to play polo. Clint Malarchuk even became became a horse dentist.

Then there's Dave Ellett, the power play specialist with the Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs in the 80s and 90s. Following his playing days the Ellett family moved to Cave Creek, Arizona where the hockey vet tried his abilities out as a cowboy mounted shooter, a rodeo sport where you ride a horse around obstacles and shoot at balloons.

Actually, Dave tried it out more as a hobby, as he concentrated on his new job as owner/president of the CHL's New Mexico Scorpions hockey team. But his Texan wife took the sport very seriously. In fact, Annie Bianco-Ellett, better known as Outlaw Annie, competes against men and has won world championships. She's a bigger legend in her sport than her husband is in his.

It turns out Dave Ellett has another sporting relative in his blood. His father was Bob Ellett, a long time minor league hockey player turned junior hockey coach. Because of the vagabond lifestyle of a hockey minor leaguer, Dave, a Canadian through and through, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and split some of his youth in American cities like Houston, Salt Lake City, Seattle and Rochester.

The Elletts would settle in Ottawa and Dave developed into a top hockey prospect. He would star in college hockey at Bowling Green State University and was a member of the 1984 National Collegiate Athletic Association champion Falcon squad, earning both CCHA and NCAA All-Tournament team honors that season.

The Winnipeg Jets drafted the skilled defenseman 75th overall in the 1982 NHL entry draft. He would join the Jets upon graduation in 1984, and immediately started paying dividends.

Dave Ellett was a very skilled finesse player. Skating was his prime asset. He was an excellent skater, blessed with very good speed and quickness, and fine agility. His mobility allowed him to dictate the play at either blue line. His transition game was great because he could effortlessly turn the play around at the defensive blue line.

His puck ability was also top notch, and that shone through on the power play, which is where Ellett established himself as one of the NHL's top players. He could control the point with great comfort, holding the line and pinching in with great efficiency. He was a key player in establishing the offensive zone. He was an under-rated puck rusher and a good break out playmaker. He also had a very good shot, and the smarts to keep it low and hard to create opportunities for deflections and rebounds.

As good as he was offensively, Ellett struggled at times defensively. He had good size and decent strength, and he used those skills in efficient manner rather than any vociferous way. He became good at establishing body position but could be outmuscled in the corners. His lack of noticeable physicality became a criticism point from his detractors in Winnipeg, accusing him of be unenthusiastic defensively at times. From time to time he was also guilty of playing the puck instead of the man on one-on-one breaks against him, resulting in a few memorable blow-bys.

Ellett was one of those players who was very valuable, but not necessarily very memorable. He never posted an incredible season or more importantly a string of playoff success. His very nature and his key to success was to remain solid and efficient, not spectacular.

Ellett may be best remembered for his overtime goal against the Edmonton Oilers in the 1990 playoffs that gave the Jets a win in Game 4. The Oilers went on to win the series and the Stanley Cup, but on that night Ellett was the undisputable hero.

Change was blowing through Winnipeg after another failed playoff experience, and early in the next season Ellett and Paul Fenton were traded to Toronto in exchange for Ed Olczyk and Mark Osbourne. Ellett would play 7 seasons in T.O. He was a very important veteran presence in two deep Toronto playoff runs.

Ellett would round out his career with New Jersey, Boston and St. Louis. He would play an impressive 1,129 NHL games, scoring 153 goals and 568 points.


Anonymous,  6:15 PM  

I got Dave Ellett's Autograph at a fishing store in Winnipeg in May 1988.

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