For the second straight season, Brian Elliott is making a new start in an NHL city.
He’s not the only former University of Wisconsin men’s hockey player who has a new team to get used to in 2017-18. Derek Stepan landed in Arizona as the New York Rangers opened up salary cap space, and a half-dozen players moved from North American leagues to Europe.
Elliott, however, has been through it all before. The goaltender for UW’s 2006 national championship team joined his fifth NHL team in July when he signed a two-year, $5.5 million free agent deal with the Philadelphia Flyers.
In the summer of 2016, he was traded from the St. Louis Blues to the Calgary Flames, and his stay in Alberta got off to a rocky start that he’s determined to avoid in Philly.
“There were a lot of things at play at the beginning of the season,” Elliott said of his 2016 introduction to the Flames, which came around the same time he and his wife Amanda welcomed their first child.
By the middle of December, he had lost his hold on the regular starting job and was near the bottom of the league with a save percentage of .886.
“It was a hard time to deal with everything, being away from family,” Elliott said on a conference call with reporters after he signed with the Flyers. “You feel like you need to get home right after practice and try to help out as much as possible. You didn’t feel some of those connections that you usually have when you didn’t have a kid to come home to. You could go out to lunch and you could talk to the guys.
“It took a while before my wife and I were both comfortable with, ‘Now do what you need to do and we’ll be fine.’ Once we got things figured out, we went on a pretty good run.”
That included the Flames winning 10 straight games to launch them into playoff position. The postseason was another disappointment — a four-game sweep by the Anaheim Ducks in which Elliott was replaced after allowing one goal in Game 4.
The writing was on the wall that Elliott, an unrestricted free agent, wasn’t going to be re-signing with the Flames, especially after they traded for Mike Smith. Now he’s in a position where he’s expected to operate in a platoon with Michal Neuvirth in Philadelphia.
Having gone through it with Jake Allen in St. Louis, Elliott said he’s comfortable in that arrangement. He started his NHL career in Ottawa before a 2011 trade to Colorado and a free agent signing later that year with the Blues.
Now in his 10th season in the NHL after playing for the Badgers from 2003 to 2007, Elliott has experienced two All-Star seasons but also his share of disappointments.
“Everybody’s been the best goalie in the NHL one night and everybody’s been the worst,” he said. “And it’s how you respond in those situations. The details are so small, and I think it’s how you respond from your bad nights, how you react and come back. That’s what you really learn from. ...
“The NHL, there’s so much pressure on every night that you have to perform. If you can’t handle it, that’s when guys slip through the cracks and you don’t see them very much anymore.”
Six former UW skaters left the continent to continue their playing careers this season:
• Madison native Jack Skille signed with HC Dinamo Minsk in the Kontinental Hockey League after his one-year deal with Vancouver expired.
• Rene Bourque joined Djurgardens IF in Sweden after a 725-game NHL career with six teams.
• Defenseman Tom Gilbert is playing with Nuremberg in Germany; he spent most of the past season in the American Hockey League after starting with Los Angeles.
• After 157 NHL games and 519 in the AHL, Jake Dowell moved to EHC Linz in Austria.
• Mark Zengerle signed with Linkoping in Sweden after three seasons in the AHL.
• Defenseman Eric Springer, who spent the past five seasons in the ECHL, joined Leuven in the Netherlands.
Like them and Stepan, who was traded to the Arizona Coyotes after seven seasons in New York, Elliott has a chance to write a new beginning after his move.
Before that happened, Elliott was a part of the 2017 induction class for the Wisconsin Athletics Hall of Fame in September, recognizing a four-year career that left him as the school’s career leader for save percentage, goals-against average and shutouts.
There were tough times for him in Calgary, but he hopes things will be different at the beginning with the Flyers.
“I’m looking forward to ... getting to know those guys earlier and trying to talk things out and where they like to be and where I like them to be — the little things that it takes time to build,” Elliott said. “Going through that last year, I think it really gave me the experience to not be afraid of it and embrace that change.”