Born in Lindsay, Ontario, an hour northeast of Toronto, the swift right winger gained his amateur training with the fabled Toronto Marlboros. He was a prolific scorer in junior and starred when the Marlies won the Memorial Cup in 1963-64.
The young winger impressed coaches and fans in his first NHL season by scoring 23 goals and narrowly losing the Calder Trophy race to Detroit netminder Roger Crozier. He was immediately a vital two-way performer playing on a line with stalwarts Dave Keon and Bob Pulford. The veterans were impressed with the fact that the youngster's zeal was as strong while checking as it was when racing in on the opposition's goal.
In 1966-67, he was one of the youthful troops that supported such legendary oldtimers as Red Kelly, Johnny Bower, Terry Sawchuk and George Armstrong. This gritty squad overcame a mediocre regular season to win the Stanley Cup. Ellis provided the crucial first goal in the sixth game of the finals versus Montreal, which the team won 3-1 to take the series in six games.
Following the trade of Frank Mahovlich to Detroit, Ellis played on his most cohesive forward unit with Paul Henderson and Norm Ullman. This trio was adept at forechecking and opportunistic scoring. Ellis's role was crucial since he usually stayed back to guard against the counter attack while his linemates pushed forward.
Prior to the 1968-69 schedule, former Maple Leafs great Irvine "Ace" Bailey insisted that Ellis wear his retired number 6 because he admired his high-caliber yet clean style of play. One of the young forward's greatest accomplishments wasn't resorting to rough or dirty tactics while doggedly checking such stars as Bobby Hull and former teammate Frank Mahovlich.
Boston Bruins general manager Harry Sinden was another Ellis admirer. He was the impetus behind the Toronto winger's invitation to training camp when Team Canada 1972 was being assembled prior to the Summit Series against the Soviets. Despite a serious neck injury suffered in the opening game, Ellis played a strong checking role in all eight games of the series.
Between 1966 and 1975, Ellis recorded nine straight 20-goal seasons, but the stress of the NHL grind became too great for him to bear and he retired after scoring 32 goals in 1974-75. During his two-year sabbatical, Ellis pursued a business career that enabled him to gain valuable experience away from the hockey rink. He also focused on the Christian faith, which had become an important part of his life.
When Ellis first heard the news that Canadian professionals were eligible for the World Championship in 1977, he volunteered his services as a consultant. It turned out that he was asked to try out for the team, which he did successfully. Canada finished fourth, but many observers noted that Ellis played some of his best hockey in years.
Feeling spiritually recharged, Ellis agreed to come to the Toronto Maple Leafs' training camp in 1977 under new coach and fellow Christian Roger Neilson. He reached the 20-goal mark for the team record of 10 straight years and helped the team reach the Stanley Cup semifinals for the first time since winning it all in 1967.
The following year he lost 17 games to injury and the team began to disintegrate because of the destructive antics of owner Harold Ballard. One of the most distasteful incidents in the mismanagement of the Toronto team during this period occurred when Ellis arrived at Maple Leaf Gardens to find that his equipment was locked away and that his services were no longer needed.
Following his retirement, Ellis continued to work in the business world and eventually returned to the game under the auspices of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992. His ability in public relations and involvement with the Hall's educational outreach programs have proven invaluable.