OTTAWA - The most important lesson Brian Elliott has learned after many hours in the NHL classroom has been to bury the bad chapters.
Let in a bad goal. Bury it. Have a bad game. Bury it. What about a bad end to a season? Bury it, too. The 26-year-old St. Louis Blues goalie certainly has exhibited this practice and has been rewarded for his perseverance with a trip to the 2012 NHL All-Star Game at Scotiabank Place this weekend.
Elliott began last season as the No. 1 goalie for the Ottawa Senators. He strutted his stuff early by winning nine of his first 13 starts. But then his season went south. Bad game after game piled up and the only things that was getting buried were pucks behind him.
Eventually, the Senators gave up on the native of Newmarket, Ont., so they shipped him to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Craig Anderson, who has played a huge role in the Senators renaissance season.
Unlike Anderson, the first change of scenery didn't help Elliott. He won only two of the 12 games he appeared in for the Avalanche. As a result, after the season he was looking for a new home.
That home would be with the Blues, and Elliott has done nothing but flourish in a tandem with Jaroslav Halek. His efforts so far have made Elliott the comeback player in the NHL this year. How does he explain the bounce back?
Can't be bothered
"I've learned to bury it," he said. "I think as a goaltender you need to learn how to bury things. You can't be bothered by a bad game or even a bad goal.
"I had a lot of friends and teammates who reminded me there was a reason why I was in the NHL and they had faith in me that I could get my game back. I was given a new opportunity in St. Louis and I've just tried to make the most of it."
Even if he has to share the net with Halak. Elliott has started 23 games to Halak's 27. Elliott leads all NHL goalies who have made more than 20 appearances this season in goals-against average at 1.69 and save percentage at .938.
All goalies want to be play more, but Elliott won't complain because of the success he, Halak and the Blues have enjoyed this season.
"Rather than worry about it, I've tried to embrace the situation and not be surprised by it," said Elliott, who added the two have learned from each other.
"He's a pretty calm guy. He sticks to himself in the dressing room. He doesn't get riled up. He shows how calm he is by the way he is in the net.
"When I'm playing my best I'm calm in the net and keep my movements to a minimum. I'm not sure if he picks up a little energy from me, but I think we're good for each other. It's a healthy relationship.
"I think it's a good thing that we're battling back and forth in practice and when we're competing against the guy at the other end. I think it's been good for the guys in front of us, too, because they need to bury pucks in practice."
It will be difficult for Elliott to bury the memory of the all-star weekend. Everywhere he has turned in Ottawa he has been warmly received. Everybody cheers for an underdog and hockey fans in the nation's capital have been happy for Elliott.
He was playing for Ajax (Ont.) Axemen tier II junior team when the Senators took Elliott with the second last pick (291st overall) in the 2003 NHL entry draft. Elliott went on to play four years at the University of Wisconsin, was a Hobey Baker finalist in 2005-06 and led his school to the U.S. college title that season.
He has become a league all star after humble beginnings. No wonder he draws strength from Casey Jones, the vigilante teenage mutant ninja turtle who wears a goalie mask and whose image adorns Elliott's mask.
"I grew up watching guys like Felix Potvin, Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour," Elliott said. "They always had a theme to their masks. So I also wanted to have a theme for my masks wherever I played.
"I like Casey Jones. He's a hockey player-turned crime fighter. He wears a goalie mask. I went with it. I think it's pretty cool and I know the kids like it."
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