Wolves Center Andrew Ebbett takes his hits, but perseveres.
Photos by Ross Dettman
Considering Ebbett spent most of the last four seasons playing in the National Hockey League, it might be fair to assume the 30-year-old Chicago Wolves center prefaced his professional career by winning a million awards and honors during college.
But when you retrace Ebbett’s four-year run at the University of Michigan, which has won more NCAA championships and appeared in more Frozen Fours than any other school, it’s not easy to find evidence that people appreciated what he brought to the ice.
Though Ebbett remains among Michigan’s all-time top 10 in games played (167) and top 16 in assists (105) and served as one of the Wolverines’ top scorers in his last three seasons, he never earned so much as honorable mention status in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA).
While teammates Jeff Tambellini and T.J. Hensick hogged the league’s and the nation’s spotlight – Hensick, now with the Peoria Rivermen, was a two-time first-team All-American and Tambellini was a first-round pick in the NHL’s Entry Draft – Ebbett settled for being a three-time selection to the Big Ten’s All-Academic team.Tweets by @aebbett
“I had a lot of points, but we had guys like Tambellini and Hensick and (Eric) Nystrom – guys that were a little more electric,” Ebbett said. “I guess you could say I was more of a set-up guy than a bring-the-crowd-to-their-feet guy.”
Oh, wait. One fitting honor came Ebbett’s way. After his senior year in 2005-06, during which he served as captain for a team that spent time ranked No. 1 in the country, Michigan’s players voted him the team’s Most Valuable Player.
“He put up a lot of points, definitely,” said Wolves forward Tim Miller, who was a Michigan freshman that season. “But we picked him because he was always one of the hardest workers. When we did our off-ice testing, he always finished first.
“He was more of a lead-by-example guy on and off the ice. He was always doing the right things. He was working so hard and it rubbed off on you. The team always appreciated what he did more than anybody else did.”
That last sentence is close to the truth, but not exact. Legendary 73-year-old Red Berenson, who has served as Michigan’s head coach since 1984, appreciated Ebbett’s abilities at least as much as his teammates did.
“He’s a coach’s player,” Berenson said. “He makes players around him better. He did all the little things to make his team win. He would win faceoffs, he would block shots, kill penalties, get the puck out of the defensive zone. Unsung would be a good word for Andrew Ebbett. All of your ‘star’ players appreciate someone like that. Maybe other players get more recognition, but guess who’s on the ice in the final minute of a game? Guess who’s on the ice for a key faceoff?”
Berenson retains vivid memories of Michigan’s two-day road trip to Alaska during Ebbett’s senior year. Scouts typically don’t waste their time making such a long trip for so few games, but Berenson recalled Anaheim Ducks assistant general manager Dave McNab being the only guy in the house. Michigan and Alaska Fairbanks split a pair of games and Ebbett didn’t score any points – unless you count the ones with McNab.
“He told me the player that jumped out to him was Andrew Ebbett,” Berenson said.
Ebbett, who tops out at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, went unselected in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. But after one season playing for the American Hockey League’s Binghamton Senators, McNab and the Ducks signed Ebbett to a free-agent contract. Ebbett made the Ducks for good early in the 2008-09 season – scoring 32 points in 48 games while centering a top line for high-scoring Teemu Selanne and Bobby Ryan – and he thought he had found a place where he was appreciated.
He discovered otherwise just two games into the 2009-10 regular season when the Ducks put him on waivers.
“It was almost like a shock,” Ebbett said. “You’re just not expecting that to happen. Anaheim brought in Saku Koivu (to take my place) and pretty much said I couldn’t play a third- or fourth-line role. That’s why they had to put me on waivers, because there was no room for me in the top six.”
That’s when Berenson’s coaching techniques and Ebbett’s versatility (not to mention his willingness to adapt) morphed him into a player that NHL teams would appreciate.
“Let’s face it: Everybody can’t play on the power play at the next level,” Berenson said. “We have to teach them to be all-around players – not just play one end of the rink. ‘Ebby’ was very comfortable at both ends.”
After Anaheim dropped Ebbett, the Chicago Blackhawks picked him up for a month. After scoring 1 goal in 10 games for the eventual Stanley Cup champions, Ebbett was waived by the Hawks and signed with the Minnesota Wild. He found himself playing on the third and fourth lines and focused on the tough jobs – taking faceoffs in the defensive zone, killing penalties, playing defense – that he learned to handle while at Michigan. All the while, Ebbett was motivated by the sting of being released.
“It’s just something that sits in the back of your head,” he said. “ ‘Just because I’m 5-10 and 180 pounds, you don’t think I can play that grinding role?’ Once I got to Minnesota, it was kind of proven I could play that third- and fourth-line role. And I added that to my game, so you’re not going to be able to put me on waivers because I can play wherever I need to play to stay up.”
After splitting the 2010-11 season between the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage and the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes – where coach Dave Tippett described Ebbett as “very intelligent” and “very valuable” in the Arizona Republic – Ebbett spent all of last season with the Canucks.
Actually, between his fractured collarbone and a broken foot earlier in the season, Ebbett appeared in just 18 games last season for Vancouver. That’s why he was fine with signing a two-way contract with the Canucks this season: It gave him the flexibility to play with the Wolves during the NHL lockout.
“It’s been fun with these guys,” Ebbett said. “It keeps me young, especially talking with the centermen. Being the veteran guy, talking with them about different plays and different faceoffs. With (Alex) Mallet and (Alex) Friesen being rookies coming into the league – and even (Jordan) Schroeder – it’s been fun playing that role and helping them with a tip here and there.”