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Ellis' work ethic earns Ruff's praise

At first, it's hard to tell who's happier that Matt Ellis is a member of the Buffalo Sabres, the player or the organization. Both speak glowingly of each other, and the praise is genuine.

But when Ellis' words finally slow down a notch or two, the answer comes.

"It definitely feels like a home," Ellis said Friday in HSBC Arena. "I love it here. I won't lie to you. It's a great group of guys, management, coaching staff, right down. Great fan base. Growing up a half-hour from here [in Welland, Ont.], it doesn't get much better than this."

If it sounds like Ellis feels blessed, his actions show it. The 28-year-old soaks in every moment of his NHL existence and treats each one as a gift. How so? By shutting his mouth and going to work.

"He works extremely hard, if not the hardest on the team," center Paul Gaustad said. "He's just a good team guy. It's the epitome of what you want on your team."

Said Ellis: "It's been my attitude my whole career that I take each day at a time and try to seize every opportunity that's in the present."

It's an outlook that's endeared him to the club that plucked him off the waiver wire last season. Ellis is grateful to be living his childhood dream, the one he's had since he first picked up a hockey stick. So while some players carp about ice time or a diminished role on the power play, the fourth-line center breathlessly anticipates every shift.

"He could get 30 seconds of ice time or he can get eight minutes of ice time, and he's not asking for anything more: 'It's my role to play whatever minutes I play,' " coach Lindy Ruff said. "He really feels it's his duty to set an example on how hard he works. That's special in a sense because usually some players want more. If they have a little bit of success they want to be a third-liner, and 'How come I can't play more?' Matty is special in a sense that, 'I'll take whatever you give me, and I'll be a soldier in that role for you.' "

The team's fondness for Ellis is why he's a near-lock to be in the lineup a week from tonight, when the Sabres open the regular season against Montreal in HSBC Arena.

It helps that he has success. Though Ellis played just 45 games -- and an average of only 8:49 in each -- he contributed seven goals and 12 points.

He spent the summer getting in position for more. He skated two or three times a week with hockey development coach Darryl Belfry, working primarily on his shot. But no matter how many goals come, Ellis will still gladly play wherever he's needed.

"Teams are built around everyone accepting their roles," he said. "You have your stars, you have your goal scorers, but you also need your role players who come in and fill the void when there's injuries or when a guy needs to step into the lineup.

"One of the things that comes from being a role player is the coach needs to be able to trust you and know what he's going to get from you. To be able to be consistent and get the coach's trust, that's huge."

***

Left wing Daniel Paille has had a "nondescript" training camp, according to Ruff. Paille, a first-round pick in 2002, was expected to compete for a spot on the top three lines. He fell to 12 goals and 27 points last season after recording 19 and 35 the year before. He has yet to regain that 2007-08 touch.

"It's finding that fire every night, to go through people, be tough to play against," Ruff said. "You would hope the 15-goal range would be good for him."

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The Sabres conclude their preseason with back-to-back games this weekend. They play in Montreal tonight then visit Toronto on Sunday. Ruff said goaltenders Ryan Miller and Patrick Lalime will each play one full game. . . . The Sabres held two practice sessions each of the previous two days, and Adam Mair skated in all four outings. The center, recovering from hip surgery, was expected to miss the first two weeks of the season.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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