Rylan Burns '09
Senior Sean Ellis will look to lead his team in the 2006-2007 season

Scoring Goals, Achieving Dreams

By Rebecca Binder '02, Specialist to Sports Information

October 25, 2006

Sean Ellis, the senior captain of the men’s hockey team, is a regular, unassuming Amherst student.

Maybe that’s what makes him so extraordinary.

Ellis came to Amherst from Springfield, a mid-sized city that’s seen better days. Although his move ate up only a half hour of interstate, Ellis described it as culture shock. “I lived in a pretty tough area, and my high school was a rough place,” he said. “There was lots of gang violence, and fights daily. You see a lot of crazy things. I don’t think you ever become used to it, but you become desensitized.

“I was lucky enough to stay away from that, do what I had to do in terms of school and go about my business – which was hockey. Hockey kept me focused.” Ellis credits his father for his induction into the sport. Mike Ellis, Sean’s father, played at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst; in fact, Sean told me proudly, he captained the Minutemen and played on a national championship team. “So,” Ellis explained, “I got exposed to hockey as soon as I could walk. I started skating when I was three. My parents never pushed me to like hockey – instead, they let me fall in love with it.”

When Ellis talks about his large family – he has three sisters and a brother – he lights up. “It’s special to play in front of my family,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I came here, because it’s so close to home and I’m so family-oriented. My parents go to home and away games; at home games, though, there’s also my grandparents, my aunts – everyone’s there and they’re nothing but the best.”

For one year of high school, and two years after high school, Ellis played juniors. He turned a lot of heads, and caught the eye of Amherst men’s head coach Jack Arena ’83. “Sean dealt with things in high school that a lot of Amherst kids don’t have to deal with. His background’s pretty different, and his transition here wasn’t always easy,” Arena remembered. “But the thing that’s made the difference is he’s such a good, genuine person, and he’s really wanted to succeed here. His drive to do well pushed him through and above all that.”

And succeed he has. Ellis, a forward, posted six goals and four assists his first year, and matched that points total his sophomore year with eight goals and two assists. Last year, though, Ellis blew up in his junior campaign: he led the Jeffs with 24 points on 10 goals and 14 assists; his 10 goals tied him for 20th in the conference. He picked up the team’s Most Outstanding Player award – a significant achievement for a junior – and became the squad’s sole captain, a rare occurrence at Amherst.

“Being a good player doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be a good leader,” Arena posited. “But Sean takes everything he does very seriously. He has a great work ethic, on and off the ice, and he seems to relate to all the different kids on the team. And he and I communicate well – I don’t think he’ll have any problem telling me exactly what he thinks.”

“I will try,” Ellis promised, “never to pull the captain card – that’s nothing but trouble. My teammates are always very receptive when I approach them because I’ve also put in my time and done everything they’re doing. There’s a mutual respect there; I try to get everyone’s opinion and include everyone, and that makes it very easy for me to relate to the team.” Ellis stressed the importance of that balance: “There’s no one person that’s more important than the others; and for us to attain our goals, we have to work as a team, and that includes stuff off the ice. The most important thing is that my team’s there all the time, and they’ve been nothing but the best. That’s very nice for me to see in my last year.”

Ellis also uses his presence on the hockey team to affect a positive change in the team’s involvement in the broader community at Amherst. “We’ve tried to steer clear of the stereotypical hockey team, and we’ve been much more inclusive and involved in the school,” he noted, describing the team’s commitment to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. “It’s also little things, like working on campus and trying to become more involved in all sorts of campus life. We’ve branched out socially, too – every guy has friends in every circle for no other reason than to just experience Amherst.”

Ellis found himself at Amherst; he also found psychology, his academic major and his personal passion. “I came here thinking I’d be an economics major,” Ellis said, “but I ended up not liking it as much as I thought I would. Then I took a class in abnormal psychology, and it was amazing. From then on, I fell in love with psychology, and I’ve stuck with it.” When he graduates from Amherst in May, Ellis hopes to play hockey for at least a year in the minor leagues, before pursuing a graduate degree in psychology, and researching gangs and gang violence.

“Sean’s a kid who really understands what Amherst’s about, and he really appreciates the opportunity here,” Arena said. “To see him now, the way he handles himself – you can see that he’s realizing he belongs here. To see where he is now, it’s great for me. As much as I want to win hockey games, it’s so much more important to see someone come in and develop as a person. That’s more rewarding than any win.”