Just two years ago, a doctor in Europe told Andrew Ebbett, in broken English, that serious knee surgery would mean he may never walk the same. Skating was definitely going to be impossible. His pro hockey career appeared over.
Distraught at first, Ebbett then declared he would play again. He rehabbed like he was a Navy Seal and recovered in record time.
At 35, he will represent Canada at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. With the NHL scratched from the Winter Olympics, Ebbett and several former pros playing in Europe were chosen by Hockey Canada.
General manager Sean Burke, head coach Willie Desjardins and Team Canada’s braintrust scoured Russia’s Kontenintal League and Switzerland’s National League, among others, to find players talented enough to wear the Maple Leaf as Canada chases a third straight Olympic gold medal.
“It’s an incredible honour,” said the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Ebbett. “Up until last year, I didn’t even think something like this was possible. I’ve worked so hard the past seven months to make this team, and getting the call from Sean Burke was so surreal. The best part for me was calling my parents and my sister and telling them we’re going to South Korea. They’ve done so much for me and my career that this is as much for them as it is for me.”
Ebbett is one of 14 forwards listed with Canada. He was second in Bern scoring with 43 points through 42 games, just ahead of teammate Mason Raymond, who also made the Olympic roster. The two played together with the Vancouver Canucks for parts of two seasons.
Forwards Gilbert Brule, Derek Roy and Wojtek Wolski and goaltender Ben Scrivens are other former NHL veterans. Former Vernon Viper Chay Genoway is one of eight defencemen.
Without studs like Sidney Crosby, Jamie Benn and Duncan Keith, the average fan isn’t giving Canada much respect. Ebbett, however, believes they can make some noise.
“I think most players, no what country they’re representing, have said Russia is definitely the favourite. After that, I think there are four or five teams that have a shot. Our team here in Bern will have 13 players at the Olympics (eight Swiss, three Canadian, one USA and one Finnish). I think we have the second most behind SKA Petersburg in the KHL.”
Canada iced NHL lineups for gold in Vancouver (2010) and Sochi (2014). Healthy this season, Ebbett earlier jumped at the chance to wear the Maple Leaf for the first time, and was a big reason Canada won its 14th Spengler Cup title at the annual tournament held over the Christmas holidays in Davos, Switzerland.
Ebbett had a goal and an assist in the final game, a 5-2 win over HC Lugano of Switzerland. Ebbett finished the tournament with four goals and four assists in five games played.
“It was a great week. I didn’t think I would ever get the chance to play for Team Canada with all the great players in this country. So to have that chance I wanted to take advantage and I had an absolute blast,” said Ebbett. “I had my mom (Colleen, of Cochrane, Alta.), sister (Ashley) and nephew (Kaden) in Davos for the tourney, too, which made it that much more special. It was awesome to win the Spengler Cup. I remember watching it as a kid and to put that Canadian jersey on for the first time was an awesome feeling.”
Ebbett, whose father, Brian, lives in Elkford, B.C., has fond memories of the two trips to the Vernon Winter Carnival Coca-Cola Classic, where he was coached by Joe Oliver and Clayton Adams.
“Everything was exciting about that tournament,” he said. “They made you feel like a star with the banquet and the parade. There was a team from Ontario so it was a pretty big deal.”
The first-ever player signed by the B.C. Hockey League’s Salmon Arm Silverbacks, Ebbett played one season in the Shuswap before landing a four-year scholarship at the University of Michigan.
Following his college career, Ebbett spent nearly a decade in pro hockey, up-and-down between the NHL and minor leagues. His NHL stops included Anaheim, Chicago, Minnesota, Phoenix, Vancouver and Pittsburgh. He compiled 71 points in 224 games and was a point-a-game player in the AHL through 200 games. He then signed with SC Bern, helping the club to the NLA championship last season.