What Dan Ellis added as an assistant captain for BFA-St. Albans never hinged on a vocal leadership style. He didn’t have one. Rather, on game days, Ellis would show up two hours before puck drop to begin his retreat into solitude.
“I don’t really talk to anybody,” he explained. “I keep to myself and get in game mode.”
First, he’d stow his phone inside his locker — no distractions. Then he’d grab a lacrosse ball and set up near a vacant wall, firing the orb back to himself to warm up his hands and hone his reflexes. Lacrosse balls worked the best, Ellis found. That usually lasted an hour before he’d climb into his goaltending gear and go for another 10 minutes.
The bustle of the pregame locker room scene carried on around him.
“That’s a goalie thing for most guys, a little quiet, a little on their own,” BFA coach Toby Ducolon said.
The real volume from Ellis came when the Bobwhites took the ice, an understated but palpable competitive streak that allowed him to transform into the state’s stingiest netminder and this season’s Mr. Hockey, a title awarded by the Free Press each year to Vermont’s top high school boys hockey player.
“Ellis, in the end, was somebody who could make game-changing saves, make the game look easy, actually kind of slow the game down,” Ducolon said. “The speed of the game was so easy for him as a senior I think it was just obvious he was a dominating player.”
The numbers back up that claim: 346 saves on 357 shots faced for a staggering, almost-beyond-belief .969 save percentage that backstopped the Bobwhites’ 19-4 run to their 19th Division I state championship.
And Ellis also occupies a rare perch for BFA, the state’s winningest program, as a four-year starter in goal.
“We’ve had guys develop and deserve it. But you go back … I don’t think we’ve had a four-year starter at BFA and that may be ever,” Ducolon said. “We’ve had guys blossom late but not for four years straight.”
Ellis bookends BFA career with state championships
When Ellis got the BFA job as a 5-foot-8 rookie, he wasn’t that far removed from his first taste of goaltending, a now-laughable weekend of summer hockey when he gave up about 40 goals in four games, he said. That season ended with a crown too.
As a senior, four inches taller, he’d literally grown into the role.
“I was pretty lucky to have (Ducolon) as the coach to give me the opportunity,” said Ellis, BFA’s fifth Mr. Hockey honoree. “I didn’t really think much about it. I was always scared of losing that.”
“Realizing that now just makes me miss it more. It goes by way too fast.”
Ducolon had high praise for the precision Ellis applies to the goaltending craft, his ability to track the puck from anywhere and a reliability that creates a sense of relaxation watching him play.
“He’s not just stopping the puck, he sees the guy on the far side, he sees all that stuff,” the longtime BFA coach said. “He suffocates the puck. When the puck gets to him it’s a whistle.”
Both of this winter’s games against arch-rival Essex were played to razor-thin margins — the first, a 2-0 game, featured two goals on a major power play, the second was a 1-0 tilt.
Hornets coach Chris Line said Ellis was the reason BFA remained in both.
“He’s not flashy … he’s very positionally sound and doesn’t give up a lot of rebounds,” Line said. “He makes the saves he has to make and a lot of times makes the ones he shouldn’t. That’s really all you can ever ask for in a goaltender.”
When asked to rate his performance this year — championship, gaudy statistics and all —Ellis’ take was: “it could’ve been better.” He credited his teammates for his success, explaining he felt he could’ve gotten BFA that much closer to perfection with a play here or there.
“I always look back at it like what could I have done to get that extra save, extra shutout. But it turned out nice in the end because of my team,” Ellis said. “All my saves were because my team was always on the back-door guy, blocking shots, doing whatever it takes. They’d give me easy shots.”
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MR. HOCKEY WINNERS
2020: Dan Ellis, BFA-St. Albans
2013: Tommy Royer, South Burlington
2012: Mike Schreiner, BFA-St. Albans
2011: Robbie Dobrowski, Champlain Valley
2010: Jake Orr, Essex
2009: Trevor Pollock, Burr and Burton
2008: Ben Pearl, Essex
2007: Jason Olson, Rutland
2006: Mark Collins, BFA-St. Albans
2005: Brendan Van Tuinen, Harwood
2004: Brett Leonard, South Burlington
2003: Ryan Van Schoick, Hartford
2002: Jon Day, Champlain Valley
2001: Joe Galdi, Essex
2000: Marc Russell, Essex
1999: Lou DiMasi, Burlington
1998: Ben Letourneau, Burlington
1997: Keith Maurice, Spaulding
1996: Lee Godbout, Colchester
1995: Luke Davignon, Rice
1994: Mike Bay, Rice
1993: Justin Martin, Essex
1992: Kyle Lanfear, BFA-St. Albans