Flyers defenseman Ryan Ellis misses what it feels like to be a hockey player, from the rush of scoring a goal to the pain of blocking a shot. He even longs for the scrums in front of the net, the occasional punch to the face, and the exodus to the bench in need of an ice pack.
For roughly four months following his last game of the season on Nov. 11, 2021 against the Dallas Stars, Ellis felt nothing but frustration. Ellis, 31, injured himself in preseason, tried to grind through it, played the first three games of the season, then came out of the lineup until his fourth and final game in Dallas.
Finally, following multiple MRIs and seemingly endless visits to different doctors and practitioners, Ellis has clarity on the nature of his injury — a “multi-layered” issue affecting his “pelvic region” — and a clear course of action toward a full recovery in time for training camp. Ellis declined to go into further specifics regarding his injury.
“It’s honestly been the hardest year of my life,” Ellis said on Saturday following his exit interview with coaches and management. “Can’t say I’ve been through anything harder.”
After pinpointing the precise issues about a month ago and getting on the same page with management about the path forward, Ellis feels a sense of excitement for the first time since he sustained the pelvic injury. That roadmap does not include surgery. Instead, his rehab will involve “treatments,” “corrections,” and “a lot of workouts and therapy.”
Ellis admitted that trying to return to the lineup prematurely exacerbated the injury. While the Flyers hit low after historic low throughout the 2021-22 season, Ellis dealt with his own health hardships and could only sit idly by and watch from afar. One of the reasons why reaching a diagnosis took so long, Ellis said, was because the issue “hasn’t really been a problem before in a lot of people.”
“It was just a long year, to be honest, in every capacity,” Ellis said. “Being around the guys became tough because I can’t play. I can’t help. I can’t do, and I’ve never had that problem before.”
Last offseason, general manager Chuck Fletcher acquired Ellis from the Nashville Predators in exchange for defenseman Phil Myers and forward Nolan Patrick, who was ultimately flipped to the Vegas Golden Knights. The plan was for Ellis to play alongside Ivan Provorov on the top defensive pairing, becoming the long-awaited replacement for Matt Niskanen after his retirement following the 2019-20 season.
In four games, Ellis scored a goal and registered four assists, averaging over a point-per-game pace in a very limited showing.
“Stats speak for themselves,” Ellis joked.
Upon becoming a member of the Flyers, Ellis looked forward to bringing his winning pedigree to Philadelphia from Nashville, where he made the playoffs eight times in his 10-year career with the Predators. But Ellis considered himself to be a member of the Flyers for a month or two before his injury derailed his everyday routine, keeping him out of the training facility in search of answers regarding his health.
With a rehab plan in place, Ellis is ready to help instill a winning culture in a Flyers locker room coming off of a 25-46-11 season.
“I want to be part of the solution here,” Ellis said. “I think I can really help out this team. My family loves it here. My kids love it here. If I were playing, this would be heaven for me. The only reason it is not, is because I’m not playing.”
Although Ellis hasn’t spent much time with his new Flyers teammates this season, center Kevin Hayes, who has had three surgeries in the past year, can relate to Ellis’ frustration.
“He’s been trying to figure out what’s going on and I’m sure he’s eager to get healthy,” Hayes said. “I think everyone that’s injured wants to get healthy and help their team win. Playing in the NHL, it’s nice that you get paid some money. It’s the best job in the world. You don’t want to be the guy who’s injured collecting paychecks.”
In about a month, Ellis anticipates that he will get back to the gym and start working out. A couple weeks after he returns to the gym, Ellis will get back on the ice and begin skating again.
His workouts will ramp up in July and August until training camp kicks off in September. In just five months time, Ellis can finally get back to feeling like a hockey player again and start contributing to a team in need of his talents.
“My whole life has been built around playing hockey and that got taken away from me; it’s been draining,” Ellis said. “With the plan we have and the steps we’re going to take in order to get back ready for next year, I haven’t been this excited in months because I finally have an approach and a path clear to go.”