For Chicago Wolves defenseman Morgan Ellis’ family, hockey was a way of life as it is for most Canadian families.
Living in East Bideford, located on the eastern isle province of Prince Edward Island nestled just off the Canadian mainland between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the Ellises grew up skating.
Ponds and outdoor rinks were abundant, so Ellis’ mother, June, made sure all six of her children took advantage of that luxury.
“She taught us all how to skate,” Ellis said. “We always had family skate after church each Sunday at 1 o’clock. We would go home, get a quick bite, get our skates and my mother would take all of us to the rink.”
Though Mrs. Ellis taught her kids to skate, her only hockey experience came on the pitch playing field hockey. But that didn’t matter; she still understood the importance of athletics, even ice hockey, for her kids.
All six Ellises were involved in a bevy of sports year-round: baseball, softball, hockey, track and field and even badminton. There wasn’t a sport one of the Ellises didn’t play.
However, in East Bideford, hockey was by far the most popular.
“Everyone played minor hockey growing up,” Ellis said. “It was kind of weird if you didn’t. That’s just how it was.”
As a 9-year-old, Morgan never thought seriously about playing professional hockey. Like any kid, he watched the National Hockey League on television and played Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in his driveway with his siblings.
But it was another hockey mom who recognized Ellis’ “OK” talent and invited him to join a competitive hockey team in the novice age group when her son’s team was short players.
At first, Ellis’ parents were hesitant. They hemmed and hawed over the opportunity. For competitive hockey, the registration fees were a little more, the time commitment was more and it was already hard enough getting six kids where they needed to go between all the sports they played.
However, the invite was not extended without a helping hand. From then on, the Ellises became part of a tight-knit group of players and parents that ascended the minor-hockey ranks together and watched out for one another.
“Your buddy’s parents are willing to take you to the games and look out for you because they’re good people and want to see you succeed,” Ellis stated. “You can ask any hockey player; there are always parents like that doing good things for people.”
With the support and help both of his immediate and hockey families, Ellis excelled. Taking each step as it came, Morgan played atom, peewee, bantam and midget.
Ellis hadn’t really given the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League – the next potential step in his career – much thought. The nearest team was an hour and a half away from East Bideford. Aside from catching one or two games on television, Ellis hadn’t had much involvement with it.
However, his teammates and competitors – teenage boys with dreams of playing in the NHL – had given the Q thought, and slowly Ellis began learning more about the east coast’s top junior league.
He finally became invested when he was ranked on the league’s top prospect list and, in June 2008, the then 16-year-old was selected by Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in the third round, 49th overall, of the QMJHL Entry Draft.
Ellis took what is often the most difficult step and left home to play junior hockey in Cape Breton. In the fourth year of his QMJHL career, Ellis – the Screaming Eagles captain – was traded to the Shawinigan Cataractes, the host club for the 2012 Memorial Cup, the Canadian Hockey League’s most-coveted prize.
Already a member of an NHL organization – property of the Montreal Canadiens as their fourth-round pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft – Ellis finished his junior career in stellar fashion. He helped Shawinigan capture the Memorial Cup and earned the QMJHL’s Kevin Lowe Trophy, awarded to the league’s most outstanding defensive defenseman.
Fast-forward five years: Ellis is in his fifth year of professional hockey and a staple on the Wolves’ blue line. Though most of his career has been in the American Hockey League, the 24-year-old made his NHL debut during the 2015-16 season with Montreal and has three games to his credit.
And Ellis has not forgotten his humble beginnings. While the professional hockey schedule is rigorous, Ellis always ensures he returns home to East Bideford for a few weeks each summer to unwind with family and friends.
Ellis’ father, Glen, often reminds him to be thankful for the opportunities he’s been given.
“I’m doing something I enjoy,” Ellis said. “And I’m going to try to play hockey for as long as I can and see where life takes me after that.”