When senior classes move on, people often talk about that group’s timepiece. For Michigan hockey’s Andrew Ebbett and Brandon Kaleniecki, their timepiece is simple: overachieving on underachieving teams.
These guys aren’t your average Michigan hockey players. In a league where the average height is around 6 feet tall, Ebbett stands at 5 foot 10 and Kaleniecki at 5 foot 8. They haven’t been selected in the NHL Draft. They were, seemingly, the players Michigan coach Red Berenson took a chance on to fill out a class that featured top prospects Jeff Tambellini, Al Montoya and Danny Richmond – all of whom departed Ann Arbor for the professional hockey ranks before graduation.
But as their careers wind down, with between two and nine games left, they should be remembered for stepping out from the shadows of departed classmates. They’ve scored more goals than expected and made the key plays when they needed to be made.
Looking back at their final season, the heart that made this clutch play possible was clearly visible in Ebbett and Kaleniecki. Night in and night out, Ebbett was on the ice for Michigan’s penalty kill, forechecking in the opponent’s zone and pinning the opposition behind its own goal line as key seconds ran off the clock.
Kaleniecki has been in constant pain the entire year. He might never admit to the world just how much, and he never showed outward signs of it, but you can see it as he comes off the ice at the end of a practice or game. Only when a sports hernia prevented Kaleniecki from being able to accelerate and change direction did he sit out.
And their contributions go beyond this season. Throughout their careers, Ebbett and Kaleniecki have defied the odds and proved wrong all the scouts who thought they were too small. Berenson looks for players who give his team a chance to win, and these two have always done that.
But as Ebbett and Kaleniecki overachieve, their teams underachieved each year.
Their freshman season, the team reached the Frozen Four. In the first period, Ebbett pulled a faceoff back to Kaleniecki, who scored from the high slot to give Michigan an early lead. But when the defense surrendered easy shots and Montoya couldn’t make key saves, Minnesota knocked out the Wolverines in overtime.
The following season, Ebbett and Kaleniecki were both among the team’s top four scorers but were let down when the team lost to Boston College during the regional final.
And last year, the Wolverines dropped a second-round game to Colorado College after blowing a three-goal lead. Not surprisingly, Kaleniecki was one of the goal scorers.
Throughout this season, the team’s younger players – particularly the 11 freshmen – have talked at great length about Ebbett and Kaleniecki’s leadership, both on the ice and in the locker room. The team has seen Ebbett’s tireless forechecking, Kaleniecki’s nose for the net and the pain this pair has suffered.
Many of these freshmen have been heralded, coming to Michigan as NHL Draft picks or with Central Scouting Service rankings, but it is time they take a lesson from the humble seniors who have led their team through thick and thin this year.
This year’s squad has the talent to take it as far as it will go. A young Denver team, with eight freshmen, finished fourth in the WCHA two years ago, but went on to win the national championship. The success of this year’s team hinges upon how well the freshmen follow their senior leaders’ examples.
If the team looks at Ebbett and Kaleniecki and gives an equal amount of effort, chances are it will move on to the NCAA Tournament and play well. But if the young Wolverines continue to play in the funk they have been in since the Great Lakes Invitational, the results will be the same as the past few years – worse than they should have been.
Michigan can count on Ebbett and Kaleniecki to work hard and achieve things the team isn’t supposed to be able to. It’s up to the rest of the squad whether it will underachieve as the past few teams have.
Dowd tries to model his penalty killing on Ebbett’s forecheck in Adult Rec League hockey. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.