Hockey: Max Ellis and Irish hockey team getting their fill and enjoying it

By John Fineran
ND Insider
Notre Dame's Max Ellis (21), shown on Oct. 21, 2021, scored two goals in a 4-2 Irish win over Penn State Friday night.

SOUTH BEND — If good things come to those who wait, then you could certainly make the case that good things have happened to Notre Dame’s No. 8 hockey team as junior right wing Max Ellis has added weight.

Ever since Ellis arrived on the Notre Dame campus as a freshman in the summer before the 2019-20 season with a ton of speed and skill but just 145 pounds on a 5-foot-9 frame, head coach Jeff Jackson couldn’t wait to see the hockey player Ellis would become after he started filling it out.

Now all you need to do is look at how Ellis’ scoring sheet has filled out in the first 13 games of the 2021-22 campaign. It has been almost all bon appétit for the Fighting Irish and Ellis. Following

► More:Notre Dame’s Ellis named Big Ten Hockey’s First Star of Week

► Hockey: Ellis completes first hat trick in OT as No. 15 Irish complete sweep at No. 1 Michigan

Notre Dame’s pair of Big Ten Hockey Conference overtime victories Nov. 19-20 over No. 1 Michigan at Yost Ice Arena where the Canton, Michigan, resident once spent many winter evenings rooting for Red Berenson’s Wolverines, 10-3 Notre Dame is riding a six-game winning streak, and Ellis already has career highs for goals (10) and points (18) and his eight assists are just four away from another.

Ellis was named the Big Ten’s First Star of the Week for his efforts against the Wolverines — an assist on the game-winning goal in Friday’s 3-2 victory and a hat trick in Saturday’s 5-4 victory. He and the fourth-place Irish are still riding high as they prepare for a Big Ten visit this Friday and Saturday from third-place and much-improved Ohio State.

“Tony Rolinski (Notre Dame’s head strength and conditioning coach) has been a blessing for me,” Ellis said. “I’m up to 170 pounds now. When I first came here, I was undersized and underweight. I was a skilled player, but I didn’t like going into the hard areas. Coach Jackson told me I needed to put on weight if I wanted to be a big factor. The weight game has helped. I’m getting to the hard areas, I’m blocking shots, I’m forechecking hard, I’m finishing up my checks. I’ve become a complete player.”

Jackson knew that added work in Rolinski’s weight room and added nourishment would be beneficial to Ellis’ development.

“Kudos to Max for doing the work,” Jackson said. “I’m just trying to push and prod him to utilize his skills more, getting inside the dots more, and he’s starting to do that. I still think he has a lot of room to grow physically. He’s going to have to continue to fill out his body to continue the pace that he is on at the college level, especially if he wants to play pro in another year or two.”

Ellis, who played for four USHL teams in three seasons while attending Ursuline High School in Youngstown, Ohio, was limited by illness and injury to just eight games his freshman year in 2019-20. His lone point was the opening goal in a 3-0 victory over Penn State. As a sophomore, Ellis played in 24 of Notre Dame’s 29 games, scoring five goals and assisting on 11 others as he began to fill out.

Notre Dame’s Max Ellis (21) dishes out a pass during the Notre Dame vs. Western Michigan NCAA hockey game Friday, Jan 3, 2020 at the Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend.

This year, the added weight and strength have made Ellis a complete player. He’s a regular on the power play — Ellis assisted on Ryder Rolston’s game-winning power-play goal in the 3-2 Friday overtime victory at Michigan and scored a power-play goal to give the Irish a 4-3 lead in Saturday’s 5-4 overtime victory. Ellis is on the penalty kill — he has two shorthanded goals for Notre Dame’s nationally top-ranked unit.

But mostly, Ellis is seemingly in the right place when the Irish need him the most. With the Saturday game tied 2-2 early in the second period, Ellis scored when he stole Michigan goalie Erik Portillo’s clearing pass behind the net and quickly wrapped it into the vacated net. Then with the team’s skating 3-on-3 in the overtime period, Ellis shot wide of the net. But teammate Cam Burke corralled the rebound and fed the puck across the ice to defenseman Adam Karashik, who found Ellis all alone on the doorstep for the game-winning tap-in.

Notre Dame's Max Ellis (21) tries to get past RIT's Jake Joffe (9) during the Notre Dame vs. RIT NCAA hockey game Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021 at the Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend.

Ellis likes his improved play from the added weight, but he mostly likes the way Notre Dame has responded from being swept at Minnesota in late October by sweeping non-conference Holy Cross and then sweeping Big Ten opponents Wisconsin and Michigan.

“We’ve learned we had to be more structured in the neutral zone,” Ellis said. “We learned defensively how we need to play. We have trust in the guys (goalies) back there in Ryan (Bischel) and Matt (Galajda). All four lines have accepted their roles. We have buy-in. Everyone is producing.”

With Max Ellis leading the way, the Irish hockey team appears to be a hungry bunch.