Like the pickup truck that he drove to and from Friday’s workout at Yost Ice Arena, senior captain Andrew Ebbett is built to handle all types of terrain. While much of his career as a center for the Michigan hockey team has been smooth sailing, Ebbett has hit a few rough spots but showed his resilience by emerging as a better player and, ultimately, a can’t-miss candidate for next season’s captaincy.
The Expressway to Ann Arbor
Since arriving in Ann Arbor, Ebbett has been known as one of the team’s top playmakers and faceoff men. After playing hockey throughout his youth, Ebbett began fine-tuning his playmaking abilities while spending the 2001-02 season with the expansion Salmon Arm Silverbacks of the British Columbia Hockey League. Ebbett starred in all areas for the Silverbacks, scoring 45 goals and notching 39 assists during his 60-game rookie season and was named the team’s most valuable player. It was this performance that caught Michigan coach Red Berenson’s eye, and Ebbett was invited to Ann Arbor for a visit.
“I visited to watch Michigan play Minnesota and Wisconsin in the College Hockey Showcase,” Ebbett said. “That’s all that needed to be said. I came here and watched the Ohio State and Michigan football game on the Saturday and that was it. Michigan was the first school I came to, and I didn’t need to see anymore.”
So Ebbett headed back to British Columbia with intentions of rejoining the Silverbacks for a year before coming to Michigan, but those plans soon changed. During the summer of 2002, Ebbett brought his parents to Ann Arbor so they could see the campus that he had so quickly fallen in love with. Their visit coincided with a nervous time for the Michigan program, as it realized the departure of current Los Angeles Kings center Michael Cammalleri was imminent.
“In the summer I was visiting some friends in Toronto, and I brought my parents down here to see the campus,” Ebbett said. “(Michigan assistant) coach (Billy) Powers said I should expect a call in a week or two because they thought Cammalleri might leave.”
After Ebbett had returned home to British Columbia, Powers’s call was almost on cue.
“I went home and literally two weeks later I got the call asking me to come,” Ebbett said. “My coaches in Salmon Arm weren’t too happy, but it was the best decision and it worked out great for me.”
Easy Street with his teammates
Since he came to Michigan, one of Ebbett’s off-ice strong suits has been his ability to relate to all of his teammates. Ebbett — along with fellow seniors Al Montoya and Jeff Tambellini — was named one of three Wolverine captains for the 2005-06 campaign. According to Powers, Ebbett’s selection was due to his omnipresent work ethic and his ability to socially maneuver between all of his teammates, taking the pulse of the entire team.
“He’s a great teammate and has no group or pack on our team,” Powers said. “He is clearly a friend of everyone. He’s just got a nice way about him. He’s the kind of kid who doesn’t get too excited and he thinks things through. He’ll be a good sounding board for the coaches.”
Ebbett’s ease of relating to teammates may stem from living in close quarters with the rest of this year’s senior class. All of the tri-captains live together, along with fellow seniors Brandon Kaleniecki and Noah Ruden. Spending so much time with each other gives them ample opportunity to sort out any disagreements that may arise.
“I think it’s great, because any time you have a problem, you know where they are 24/7,” Ebbett said. “With such a tight senior class, with Ruden and Kaleniecki in there too, all of us live together. You can bring up anything you want at any time — it’s really laid back. We know how each of us does everything and reacts to everything, It’s kind of like we’re brothers.”
Cruise control to the Black List
While his relationships with teammates have always come easily, his success on the ice has not. After experiencing a slump in early January, Berenson and his staff decided to bench Ebbett for the series against Alaska-Fairbanks on Jan. 14 and 15, ending his streak of 108 consecutive games played.
“I had an awful series against Western Michigan,” Ebbett said. “I almost cost the team a game with a bad penalty on the Saturday night, and I came into the practice on Tuesday and had the black jersey on. I remember walking in and seeing that in my locker for the first time, so I immediately knew I wasn’t playing.”
Powers saw that while Ebbett had continued trying, he was struggling to hit his usual standard of play and believed that Ebbett needed a weekend to sit back and re-evaluate his recent performance.
“Ebbett’s the kind of kid who will never take a day off,” Powers said. “He’s not a slacker at all, not a shortcut kind of guy. He just found a comfort zone where he thought things were going pretty good. We had to remind him that he was not living up to any expectation that he had set or we had set for his season.”
After talking over the benching with Powers and watching the two-game series from the stands, Ebbett realized that perhaps his focus had shifted to the wrong parts of his game. Instead of using his innate ability to find open teammates on the ice, Ebbett was more interested in finding his name in the goals column of the scoresheet.
“At that point my intensity was just not where it should be for a guy like me,” Ebbett said. “It seemed like I was just coasting along. I was still trying hard — maybe too hard — but it just wasn’t going for me. I needed to relax because I was in a slump and hadn’t scored a goal for a while. I was starting to worry more about scoring goals than playing defense and what was best for the team. I needed that weekend to sit back and watch from over the top and see what was going on.”
Powers’s solution was easy enough for the hard-working Ebbett to handle. He simply encouraged Ebbett to return to the habits that had worked for him throughout his career.
“I talked with Coach Powers and he just told me to keep it simple,” Ebbett said. “He said to go out there and work hard and worry about defense first. I just went out there and played hard defense. Every chance I had to go out on the ice, I just skated as fast as I could and worked as hard as I could and everything started to come in to place.”
Ebbett said that skating hard in practice each day and reflecting on his efforts while watching that weekend’s games helped Ebbett realize that the coaches had made the right decision, but he’ll never forget what it felt like to see the black jersey hanging in his locker.
“I was pretty furious about it until the next Monday,” Ebbett said. “I was upset with myself when I had to sit in the stands. I’m still a little mad about it but it’s been the best thing that’s happened to me. It totally changed my year around and I started playing well after that. I had more fire under my feet. Everything just seemed to work out. But at the time, I wasn’t happy with (Berenson), but he knows what’s best.”
Looking back at Ebbett’s grace in traversing the rough ground that can come with a benching, Powers believes it is the ultimate example of Ebbett’s resilient personality.
“The best thing about it was that he didn’t pout,” Powers said. “He was upset, he was probably shocked. But I think after a couple of days when he got to re-evaluate, he realized that he needed to be a different Andrew Ebbett. Nobody wants to say that I should have sat out or that I deserved to sit out. I think that was a huge sign of what kind of kid he is and where his maturity level is.”
Turning back to his old ways
After the benching, Ebbett began to play like his old self, notching 11 points in 10 games, and even went on a four-game goal-scoring streak. Ebbett attributes his recovered success to using the tools he has been recognized for since his earliest days in youth hockey.
“I’ve always had good vision of the ice,” Ebbett said. “When I was younger, my parents always told me that and my coaches have always said that. I know where everyone is going to be at certain times.”
Besides his playmaking ability, which helped him earn 31 assists on the season — third-best on the team and sixth-best in the CCHA — one of Ebbett’s most important contributions is his ability to win faceoffs. Ebbett won 54.6 percent of his faceoffs last year, tops among Michigan’s regular centers.
“The coaches and I worked on (faceoffs) every day in practice last year,” Ebbett said. “It’s just something I thrive on, especially with how important it is. Since I’ve been here, the coaches have always stressed how faceoffs can end your season or keep your season going.”
In the 2005-06 season Ebbett is looking forward to serving as one of the team’s captains and hopes to continue improving his game.
“I just want to go out there and do what the coaches need me to do,” Ebbett said. “I want to be out there against the other teams’ top lines and shut them down. I want to try to be one of the best penalty killers in the league.”
Ebbett hopes that his improved work ethic will rub off on his teammates, and feels that can be his best contribution as captain of a team with 10 new players.
“I’m just focused on the team and what the goals are for the team,” Ebbett said. “I’m really involved with helping out with guys who need help in certain areas. I just have a passion for the game. I do what I can in the locker room to help guys out and every day I come to practice with a work ethic so the guys see me working hard and that it rubs off on them. Either in the weight room or in practice on the ice, I just keep focused and do the right things at home.”