Andrew Ebbett ready to don most important hockey jersey in Pyeongchang
Vernon, B.C., native’s comeback leads to Winter Olympics
When Canadian men's Olympic hockey general manager Sean Burke revealed his 25-player roster on Thursday, he remarked there were a lot of good stories on this team.
Wojtek Wolski immediately received plenty of attention for his perseverance. On Oct. 13, 2016, six months after he and Metallurg Magnitogorsk won the KHL Gagarin Cup championship Wolski suffered a broken neck and concussion in the 19th game of the campaign.
- Team Canada pins Olympic hockey hopes on veteran roster
- Former NHLers, AHL standouts dot Canadian Olympic team
- 1994 showed Olympic hockey can be great without the NHL
He missed the rest of the season, only to return to action this year and earn a spot on the Canadian Olympic team at age 31.
One of Wolski's new Canadian teammates endured a similar scenario. Andrew Ebbett decided he had enough of bouncing back and forth between the NHL and AHL. So he signed with Bern SC. But the ninth game into the 2015-16 season, a few days before Halloween, the Vernon, B.C., native broke his left tibial plateau, the bone just below the knee.
The prognosis wasn't good. The doctor who performed the surgery to reconstruct his leg delivered the bad news the morning after at 7 a.m.
"He said I was done hockey and that I may not walk normal again," Ebbett recalled. "I was in shock. I broke down and I thought it was over. But I stuck it out.
"The doc did a terrific job in putting my leg back together. I could have come home to North America to recover, but I decided to stay in Bern, work hard for four months and make a comeback."
And what a comeback it has been. Ebbett suited up in time to help Bern win the Swiss championship. He has since gone on to win back-to-back Spengler Cups with Canada and another Swiss league championship with Bern.
"I was having so much fun in Bern when my broken leg happened," he said. "I didn't want to be that guy to come over to Europe, have a bad experience and then leave quickly. So I toughed it out and we won the championship. It made it all the more special."
After earning a bachelor of arts degree in four seasons at the University of Michigan, Ebbett went undrafted but was signed by the Ottawa Senators. In the next nine seasons, he played 243 NHL regular season and playoff games in places like Anaheim, Chicago, Vancouver and Pittsburgh with players like Ryan Getzlaf, Jonathan Toews, the Sedin twins and Sidney Crosby. But he also performed in 367 regular-season and playoff outings in the AHL.
Ebbett decided to give Europe a shot after two frustrating seasons in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.
"I got to the point where at age 32 I was living in a hotel in Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre for two seasons in a row," Ebbett said. "I had a couple of good games with Pittsburgh and still got sent down. I had had enough.
"The decision turned out good for me. I got a chance to play for Canada in the Spengler Cup, to wear the Canadian maple leaf for the first time in my career at 33."
Yes, the kid who used to stock shelves at Coopers Grocery in Vernon has come a long way.
Since he left the University of Michigan, Ebbett has put on 15 different sweaters, including the Canadian colours for the Spengler Cup.
He had an opportunity to return to the NHL last summer when his former Michigan teammate, Jason Botterill, took over as GM of the Buffalo Sabres. But Ebbett opted to stay in Europe — he's third in Swiss league scoring with 12 goals and 41 points in 37 games — and now he'll play for Canada at the Olympics.
"[Botterill] told me I had a lot of NHL games in me," Ebbett said. "But I'm in a situation right now in Switzerland in which I sleep in my own bed every night. I play 20 minutes a game and I'm counted on. I didn't have that role back home and it's nice to have that role at this point in my career.
"I've played in so many different cities in North America and now I'm in Europe and it's been a lot of fun."
Ebbett has 14 of his 15 pro sweaters. The one he's missing is from his first NHL game with the Anaheim Ducks on Feb. 22, 2008.
He hopes to one day retrieve a Ducks sweater to complete his collection. In the meantime, a week shy of the decade-long anniversary of his NHL debut, a 35-year-old Ebbett will wear the most important hockey sweater of his collection for Canada at the Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea next month.