SASKATOON — Although Austin Elliott is in his first full Western Hockey League season, the Saskatoon Blades goaltender has definitely not looked like a rookie.
The 18-year-old from Strathmore, Alta. was third in the WHL in goals against average of 2.07, as of March 8. The 6-foot, 154-pounder’s .915 save percentage placed him fourth in the league standings.
“For certain guys that come into the league, sometimes the lights can be brighter than expected,” Blades goaltending coach Jeff Harvey said. “For Austin, nothing has been that way for him. Just his calmness. His self-belief is something you don’t see very often. A lot of goalies that come through this league have a hard time fighting to find their confidence. Austin has had that from day one. For every reason, he should because his game backs it up, he believes in himself, and it shows on the ice.
“His ability to do that – the self belief that translates into his game gives him confidence. It’s just something you very rarely see at this level in a rookie goaltender.”
On March 6, Elliott received WHL Goaltender of the Week honours for the second time this season. In the previous week, he was 2-0 with a 1.50 goals against average and .941 save percentage.
When asked about his success this season, Elliott praised Harvey and his goaltending partner Ethan Chadwick. As of March 8, Elliott had 22 wins in 32 appearances, while Chadwick, a homegrown product, had earned 21 victories in 31 appearances.
“We have a really good relationship where we really push each other to get better on and off the ice,” Elliott said of Chadwick. “If one guy goes out there and has a good game, the next guy wants to follow it up.
“Our goalie coach, Jeff Harvey, really gets the best out of us too, I think. Just putting in the work every day with our goalie coach definitely helps.”
Elliott’s success has attracted attention from National Hockey League scouts. He is eligible for this summer’s NHL draft. Harvey said a number of teams have been coming to talk to the young goalie and that Elliott has handled well the possibility of being drafted.
“If you’re an NHL team, you’re going to get a steal on a guy who’s not on Central Scouting yet,” he said. “Honestly, we don’t talk about it day to day. … A big part of our philosophy is just focus on the process – that’s day to day come in here and try to get better. That stuff at the end of the year will take care of itself. For him, he is just trying to get better every single day. It’s great how he blocks that out.”
One aspect of Elliott’s games that NHL will covet is his calm demeanor.
“I always describe it to the coaches, ‘he could be inside a house that is on fire, and he wouldn’t be looking crazy, out of place, overreacting or anything,” Harvey said. “He’s just calm. Cool under pressure. Nothing seems to faze him.
“So, there’s no moment that’s too big for him yet. He’s beat Seattle (who have the second-best record in the WHL) … and he was terrific that night (making 30 saves on 32 shots in January). … It’s his ability to stay calm in those tough moments.”
Before moving up this season to the major junior ranks, Elliott developed his game at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox. He played on various Hounds teams in four years there. Elliott said the rural setting helped him focus.
“My time there definitely helped me a lot,” he said. “I had some good mentors there who really prepared me for junior hockey and what it takes to be a pro hockey player too. All the different habits that you need to have to be a successful hockey player. I think I definitely took a lot from my time there.”
Last season Elliott suited up for the Notre Dame Hounds’ Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League squad. Even with success at that level, it is a jump moving up to the WHL. Elliott was pleased to have two games with the Blades as an affiliate player in 2021-2022 under his belt.
“The speed is a whole lot faster,” he said. “Everything you do – your reads, your movement, everything has to be a lot quicker. Last year I got a couple games in where I definitely had a little bit of a learning curve. I think just working over the summer and in preseason too. I think I really prepared well for this season.”
Elliot has enjoyed various facets of his first campaign with the Blades.
“It definitely helps that we’re one of the top teams in the league,” he said. “I think winning a lot definitely makes the year a lot more fun and just the fact that we have a tight-knit group and that we’re really close as a team.”