AUSTIN, MN – It was a rough 2017-18 season for Bruins defenseman Matt Eller. After earning a role as a steady, shut down defenseman and become a mainstay in the lineup, a hit from behind on December 29th would turn out cutting short his season and Junior hockey career. He suited up in three games in the 2nd half following the injury but was shut down for good after the game on January 20th. He had two assists in 31 games, but his job was keeping the puck out of his net, and his presence in the lineup was greatly missed the rest of the way. More importantly for Eller, the future of his hockey career was uncertain.
“After getting injured, it was tough to still be able to get looks from schools for obvious reasons,” Eller said. “My coaches in Austin were extremely helpful doing everything possible to continue to get me school interest.”
Fortunately, the end of Eller’s Junior career didn’t mark the end of his journey in hockey. He announced this week that he’ll play college hockey next season at Adrian College – one of the top NCAA Division III programs in the nation.
“Adrian is one of the top programs in the country, and they are competitive year in and year out,” Eller said. “I have heard nothing but good things about the program. It is relatively close to home, it is a small campus, and they have a reputation for outstanding academics.”
Adrian is located in Southern Michigan, Southwest of Ann Arbor. A relatively new program, the 2017-18 season marked the team’s 10-year anniversary of entering NCAA hockey. The Bulldogs have won at least 20 games in every season of existence, never once hitting double-figure losses. Although they are still in search of their first National Title, Adrian has advanced to six consecutive NCAA Tournaments. They reached the Championship game in 2011, losing to St. Norbert and have since made two additional DIII Frozen Four Appearances (2015 and 2017). Adrian has played in the NCHA (Northern Collegiate Hockey Association) since the 2013-14 season, of which they’ve been Champions twice. The NCHA has shown to be one of the nation’s toughest conferences, with fellow DIII powerhouse and 2018 National Champion St. Norbert also competing within it.
Eller is a native of Detroit, playing his AAA hockey in the Belle Tire program. He spent a year with the Hawkesbury Hawks of the CCHL prior to playing in Austin. The 6’3 defenseman talked about how his Bruins experience, although brief, was fulfilling.
“Austin is a great city for a Junior hockey team. They have an awesome fanbase, and the community loves their team. The coaching staff pushed me to challenge myself day in and day out to improve all aspects of my game so that I would be ready for the next level.”
Eller joins an established list of Bruins alumni to play at Adrian. Forwards Brian Bachnak and Trevor Boyd, along with defenseman Cory Dunn will all be Seniors next season. Goaltender Dillon Kelley, who played part of the 2013-14 season in Austin, just finished up his Senior season.
Eller, who has never been a big point-producer, knows he has an offensive side to his game that is still untapped. He hopes to add some scoring to his game on an Adrian team that is knowing for putting pucks in the net.
“There is always room for improvement in every facet of the game,” he said. “In college I would like to work on adding a bit more of an offensive element to my defensive game.”
It was a season full of adversity, but it ends with a big payoff for Matt Eller, who has a lot of people to thank.
“I would like to thank my family, my billet family, all my previous coaches and teammates, as well as all of the medical staff who have helped me in my rehabilitation. I would also like to thank the coaches and staff at Adrian for this opportunity.”