Being in the right place at the right time is a huge part of succeeding in sports, a fact that few can appreciate more than North Vancouver’s Stefan Elliott can right now.
The 27-year-old defenceman is one of the lucky few who have parlayed their positions as non-NHL pro hockey players into the opportunity of a lifetime: a chance to play for Olympic gold with Team Canada.
“It’s amazing. A dream come true. It’s pretty much indescribable,” Elliott told the North Shore News Sunday, on the phone from Riga, Latvia where he had just helped Canada score a 2-0 win over the Latvian national team in an Olympic tune-up game. “Every Canadian kid, it’s their dream to play in the Olympics and pull that jersey on.”
Elliott has undoubtedly benefitted from the NHL’s decision to ban its players from participating in the 2018 Olympics, but he’s also worked incredibly hard and persevered through tough challenges to get to this position. Elliott was a star at the North Shore Winter Club, playing with the likes of Evander Kane and Jordan Weal on teams that won nearly everything in sight. He then moved on to the Saskatoon Blades where he established himself as one of the top players in the Western Hockey League, winning the best defenceman award for the 2010-11 season.
He was drafted in the second round by the Colorado Avalanche in 2009 and put on a show in his NHL debut, scoring the game-winning goal in a 5-2 win for Colorado over the Edmonton Oilers on Hockey Night in Canada. That, however, was one of the high points of his NHL career, as he would go on to score 24 points in 84 career NHL games spread over five seasons with the Avalanche, Phoenix Coyotes and Nashville Predators.
He is now a member of HV71 in the Swedish Hockey League, but last summer he was invited to a training camp with other Olympic hopefuls, sparking the realization that he had a real shot at going to the Olympics. That spark lit a fire in Elliott. This season in Sweden, and during a stint with the national team at Channel One Cup in Moscow in December, Elliott played every game like it was his personal tryout for the Games. He never knew when a Team Canada scout was watching, and he didn’t want to leave anything to chance.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it’s something you want to do your best for,” he said. The work paid off when he got a phone call in January. It was Sean Burke, the Olympic team’s general manager, calling to tell him he was about to become an Olympian.
“I didn’t really know what to say, to be honest, when they told me,” Elliott recalled, adding that it’s been quite a journey to get to this point in his career. “It goes by so fast, but at the same time so much has happened. I try not to take anything for granted and try to learn something every day. You never know where you’re going to end up or what’s going to happen. Whatever happens, you never get too down and always come back kicking and give it your all, because you never know what can happen. I think that me going to the Olympics is a prime example of that.”
Luck may have played a part for all of the players suiting up at the Games, but now that they are on the team, they aren’t just happy to be there, said Elliott.
“Everyone on the team is expecting to win,” he said. “Yeah, making the Olympics is pretty special, but the feeling of winning a gold medal, I think that trumps any other feeling. … I try not to get ahead of myself, (but) it’s hard not to imagine what that would feel like, and I think that just helps drive me to play that much harder. When you picture how amazing it would be, you want to do everything you can to make that happen.”
Right place, right time. And now Stefan Elliott will be going for gold with Team Canada at the Olympic Games, trying to follow the path up the podium taken by hockey greats like Crosby, Iginla and Lemieux.
“I’m pretty speechless,” he said. “I’m just really honoured. It’s crazy and a whirlwind, but at the same time now that I’m here you’ve got to play to win, you can’t be too caught up in the whole Olympic thing. But it is pretty special, I’m not going to lie.”