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Ebbett succeeds where predecessors failed

by Eric Stephens
In an instant, Andrew Ebbett was on the receiving end of a metaphor for his still-evolving hockey career.

On Feb. 11, Ebbett was doing what he does best -- attacking the neutral ice with speed. Only this time, the Anaheim Ducks center had his head down and momentarily lost track of Calgary defenseman Dion Phaneuf roaming around near the Flames' blue line.

Phaneuf didn't lose track of the 5-foot-9, 182-pound Ebbett, nailing him with a shoulder (or, if you ask Ebbett, an elbow) to the head, breaking his nose in the process. The rattling hit, one of many that the talented Calgary rearguard has delivered, sent the diminutive forward flying.

In another instant, Ebbett was on his skates and back in the play as if nothing happened.

"I think it's just ingrained in my head that when I'm falling down, I'm getting right back up," he said. "It's something my dad has taught me since I was 5 years old and started playing hockey. Don't lay on the ice. Even if I'm hurt, the first thing I want to do is get back up right away, get off the ice and back to the bench."

Much like his road to becoming an everyday NHL player, Ebbett took the lick and kept coming. At 26, the native of Vernon, B.C., has gone from being a minor-league afterthought to thrusting himself into a key role as the Ducks' second-line center.

Ebbett has put up some numbers -- 8 goals and 24 assists in 48 games -- but he's done that at every level of hockey. Perhaps more importantly, he has been the right fit alongside future Hall-of-Fame sniper Teemu Selanne, succeeding where other more established veterans have failed.

The Ducks' failure to find a replacement for Andy McDonald had haunted the club since they traded the speedy center to St. Louis in December 2007 for salary-cap reasons to shepherd Scott Niedermayer's return to the team.

Doug Weight, a four-time All-Star they got in return from the Blues, brought an impressive resume but never clicked with Selanne and was a healthy scratch at season's end. Anaheim brought in Brendan Morrison as a free agent, but the veteran was slow to recover from offseason knee surgery and never produced at the level he displayed for years in Vancouver.

Between them, Weight and Morrison have 1,510 career points and have appeared in 150 postseason games. Ebbett had played in just three NHL contests entering this season, all with Anaheim.

But Ebbett has the one thing the other two may no longer have -- speed.

"We were looking for somebody that would specifically fill that role, that had some quickness through the ice, that had some hockey sense (and) could provide a disher-type of player," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. "I don't think you can say he's a sniper, but I think he's more of a disher in that he can create some space for himself with his speed and his stop-offs.

"He's been a guy that can get Selanne the puck. And that's important. When you tried to put things together, he seemed to be the best fit ... the most consistent guy doing that. So he earned that opportunity."

More specifically, Ebbett has the ability to skate with the high-flying Selanne. The prolific goal scorer said Ebbett's game reminds him of when McDonald lined up beside him to form a swift trio with winger Chris Kunitz.

"It's not always about getting me the puck," said Selanne, who has 578 career goals. "But he can match the speed. He can join the rushes. With his speed, he makes a lot of room for myself and vice versa.

"That's how Andy and Kuni worked. We always worked with each other. If there's just one guy making the plays but he can't join the rush, it's almost like you're by yourself. So he has that ability to jump with you. That's huge.

"I remember when Mac was here, we were all flying. A lot of nights, I was the slowest guy on that line."

In turn, Ebbett realizes what is going to make him most effective on the ice.

"I've told everyone right from the start, I just give him the puck when he's open," Ebbett said. "He has close to 600 goals so you can't go wrong. We've been able to read and play that give-and-go style of hockey. I give it to him and he gives it back. It's worked pretty well so far."

While he has cemented a spot in the Ducks' lineup, Ebbett has taken his fair share of punishment this season. Phaneuf may have delivered the hardest blow, but he isn't the only one that has tried to put the center in his sights.

"I see him get hit and I shudder at times because he's a small guy," Carlyle said. "But he's like the Eveready battery. He gets right back up and goes."

It is Ebbett's ability to take a shot and bounce right back that has earned him a great deal of respect in the Ducks' dressing room. 

"That's the character you want on the team," Anaheim winger Drew Miller said. "You want guys that can take that and keep coming back and coming back. He's had to deal with that for a while now. It's what he was born with and he's made the most of it.

"He's here in the NHL and he's making a name for himself. He's come along way. Good for him."
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