Over the past three and a half years, seniors Andrew Ebbett and Brandon Kaleniecki have formed a seemingly inseparable bond on the ice. Over the past weekend, the pair proved just how powerful that bond could be.
Coming into the game, all eyes were on Nebraska-Omaha’s Scott Parse, Bill Thomas and Bryan Marshall, one of the nation’s top scoring lines. But it was Ebbett, Kaleniecki and freshman Jason Bailey who stole the show. While the Mavericks’ aces managed to net three goals on Saturday night after being kept off the score sheet on Friday, the Wolverines’ checking line knocked in two apiece over the weekend, combining for six total goals.
Ebbett and Kaleniecki have never been particularly heralded, and neither has been drafted by an NHL team. But they have quietly provided the Wolverines with a serious threat – a checking line that can score.
“Since we got here freshman year, they have put (Ebbett and me) on a line together,” Kaleniecki said. “And things kind of worked well from the beginning. He’s a smart player, so he knows what to do, and I like to think of myself as a smart player. So we know what’s going on out on the ice and we’re kind of on the same page, so it works well.”
Bailey was a perfect final piece for the line, completing a trio of scrappy workhorses.
“Bailey brings a great work ethic,” Kaleniecki said. “He works hard, he finishes his checks, and he’s strong. He brings a lot of things. When he’s on the ice, you know he’s going to do these things, so it gives us a chance to get something going.”
While Ebbett and Kaleniecki have flown under the NHL radar, Bailey was a fifth-round selection of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the 2005 draft. He has been praised for his speed and his ability to throw his weight around to win battles in the corner. This weekend, Bailey managed to find the back of the net twice and was able to create numerous other chances for his teammates. He credits Ebbett and Kaleniecki for helping to raise his level of play.
“These are two of the guys that everyone looks up to on this team,” Bailey said. “I have to play at a higher level when I’m playing with these guys. You always have to be going with (Kaleniecki) at practice, or he’ll let you know. They are good guys and good leaders, so it worked out with us.”
Kaleniecki also felt the benefits of the new line and knocked in two goals, including an impressive top-shelf blast to tie Saturday’s game at one. While suffering through a laundry list of nagging injuries, Kaleniecki has struggled to make his way onto the score sheet so far this season. Many of his goals have been redirections and rebounds, so he was pleased to score on a well-placed shot.
“It feels really good to score one like that,” Kaleniecki said. “Especially since all of my other ones were kind of just like yesterday’s tip, and the one before that was a deflection. They were all kind of right around the net, so it was nice to get a nice shot.”
As his injuries continue to heal, Kaleniecki hopes to make the most of the second half of his senior season.
“It’s coming along,” Kaleniecki said. “I’ve had some injuries that were kind of lengthy, and it kind of got to the point against Wisconsin where I couldn’t play. Last week, I felt a little better, and this week I felt the best I have felt in a long time.”
As Kaleniecki’s health improves and the line continues to gel in the coming weeks, Ebbett believes coach Red Berenson will keep the group together after shuffling lines several times in the past few weeks.
“I think they will keep us together,” Ebbett said. “Especially with guys like (forwards Marty) Sertich and (Brett) Sterling from Colorado College. We are playing well together, so I don’t think they’ll break us up for a while. Hopefully, it just keeps going.”