PHILADELPHIA – If perseverance and dedication to the sport of hockey are two-thirds of the coveted Bill Masterton Trophy, then Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott certainly qualifies for the honor.
All Elliott has done the past two seasons is endure two major surgeries and another three-month injury absence, keeping him out of some 70 games.
And yet the soon-to-be 34-year-old (April 9) netminder has bounced back from all that adversity each time to remain a stalwart in the Flyers’ net.
That’s a big reason why the Philadelphia chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association has named Elliott its nominee for the 2018-19 Masterton award.
Elliott’s injury problems actually began Feb. 10, 2018 in a game at Arizona. Core muscle surgery was required and Elliott was out of action until just before the start of the playoffs.
In the series against Pittsburgh, he clearly was not at full strength and eventually was pulled.
Over the summer, he had to undergo a follow-up operation. He seemed to be back to full strength early in the season but then bad luck happened again. In a game against the New Jersey Devils on Nov. 15, he suffered a lower-body injury which kept him out all the way until Feb. 19 when he relieved Carter Hart in a loss to Tampa Bay.
But after that, Elliott was brilliant, as he compiled a 5-1-1 record during the Flyers’ inspiring 18-4-2 streak.
“Yeah, it was definitely a test of your mind and trying to stay positive when you have some dark days,’’ Elliott said during an interview in which he was informed of his nomination.
“But that’s what the game is all about. That’s why it’s so fun and so good. It’s such a challenge and when you can come out on the other side, either winning a game or overcoming an obstacle, I think that’s the biggest joy you can get out of it.’’
The 6-foot-2, 198-pound native of Newmarket, Ont. didn’t start playing goaltender until his early teens, but he always loved playing hockey no matter what the position.
Not getting selected until the ninth round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Elliott attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and stayed all four years to graduate.
That probably worked in his favor.
“You have that goal since you were 5 or 6 years old,’’ he said. “You draw a picture for your parents to show them what you want to be when you grow up. You just have kind of that internal mindset that it’s going to happen. When you get drafted. . .it doesn’t matter when you get drafted, it’s an opportunity, a team wants you to succeed. They want their pick to work out. They put that confidence in you.
“I took four years to go through college. I grew a lot, I learned a lot as a person, as a goaltender. When I came out, I felt that much more ready for that challenge of turning pro. Things worked out for me the first couple years. You look back at it like that – you do what you can, on your own, and hope that things work out for you.’’
Elliott would play for Ottawa (the team which drafted him), along with Calgary, Colorado and St. Louis before coming to the Flyers as a free agent in 2017.
He got off to a good start with the Flyers but the injuries have clouded his overall contribution.
How tough has it been to sit and watch so many games, especially when he’s part of the team’s veteran leadership group?
“Yeah it’s tough,’’ Elliott said. “We were struggling to try to get into some games. It’s tough to watch on the sidelines when guys are going through that. You’ve been through those situations in the past, you know how hard it is to dig yourself out of a rut. All you can do is give some positive words and try to be the best cheerleader you can. You’re working hard to come back and get in the fight.’’
The trophy is named for the late Bill Masterton, a former player for the Minnesota North Stars who died when his head hit the ice in a game back in 1968.
Elliott was asked what the award means to him.
“It’s definitely a meaningful award, your dedication to the game,’’ he said. “I’ve always been a guy who’s loved the game. Loves to be at the rink and around the team.
“Whenever you get nominated for something like that, it’s definitely humbling that people feel that of you, that you have that dedication toward playing hockey. You’re doing something you love. I’m definitely proud of that.’’
Elliott is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Would he like to stay a Flyer or hit the open market?
“When you become part of a team, you want to see things through,’’ the two-time NHL All-Star said. “I think we’re definitely growing as a team. We had a tough couple months. But you look at last little bit here, we were one of the best teams in the league. It gets you excited about the team and the possibilities.
“I don’t know what the future holds. You can control what you can. All I can do is come out here, work hard, when you get the opportunity to go in net, you try to give your teammates a chance for the win. That’s all you can focus on right now.’’
Previous winners of the Masterton by a Flyer include Bobby Clarke, Tim Kerr and Ian Laperriere.
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