by Brian Coe | AHL On The Beat Archive
In the holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey talks about how he wants a suitcase big enough to accompany his travels for 1,001 nights.
“With plenty of room here for labels from Italy and Baghdad, Samarkand … a great big one,” he announces.
Bailey never got the chance to see the exotic locations he dreamed of in the film, but his suitcase wouldn’t have gone to waste if he would have handed it off to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins forward Andrew Ebbett.
A veteran of nine professional seasons, Ebbett has suited up for 12 different teams (six AHL, six NHL) and has played in 57 of the 60 current buildings on the top two pro circuits (as well as a few that are no longer in use). The only arenas he hasn’t set a skate in are the Glens Falls Civic Center, the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., and the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
“I’ve made my way around,” chuckled Ebbett.
His first pro game took place at the Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton, N.Y., on Oct. 8, 2006, a 5-3 Senators loss to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Eight years and one month later, Ebbett returned to the building where his career began and pulled on a pro sweater for the 500th time. He even chipped in with a goal, as the Penguins recorded a 6-4 win over one of his former employers.
The significance of the event didn’t pass by the native of Vernon, B.C., even if it did sneak up on him a bit.
“I didn’t really know about it until last weekend,” he said following practice at the Toyota SportsPlex in Wilkes-Barre last week. “If you would have asked me going into my first year in Binghamton if I would make 500 pro games, I probably would have laughed and said ‘no way.’ I’m pretty proud of the achievement.”
And rightfully so. Ebbett reached his 500th pro game — which also happened to be his 300th in the AHL — despite having never been drafted, and being considered an undersized player at just 5-foot-9 and 174 pounds.
“He’s a real special guy,” said Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach John Hynes. “I think any time you can play that many professional games, it’s really a tribute to your character, your ability, your work ethic.
“He’s the ultimate pro. To be able to get to 500 games in pro hockey at his size, speaks to the way he takes care of himself, how he carries himself at a pro.”
A four-year standout at the University of Michigan, Ebbett was signed by the Ottawa Senators as a free agent prior to the 2006-07 season. He entered his rookie season with high hopes, but failed to crack the B-Sens’ opening-night lineup.
However, an injury to forward Danny Bois in Binghamton’s first game of the season opened the door for Ebbett to make his pro debut.
“I think I was just excited,” he said when asked about his first game. “I was worried about getting sent down to the [ECHL], so I wanted to make sure I made a good first impression.
“You’ve just got to stay positive, and when you get your opportunities, you’ve got to take advantage of them.”
Ebbett didn’t disappoint the Binghamton faithful, recording 16 points in his first 13 games. He finished the year with 26 goals and 39 assists for 65 points in 71 AHL games.
“To get that opportunity in that second game, and to take advantage of it, it kind of maybe changed the course of my career,” he said.
His rookie numbers opened up the eyes of a few teams, but it was the Anaheim Ducks who signed Ebbett prior to the 2007-08 season. He spent the majority of that campaign with the Ducks’ AHL affiliate in Portland, but did manage to crack the Anaheim lineup for three games during the regular season.
Ebbett’s second season came to an end in his current home, as the Penguins downed the Portland Pirates in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2008.
“That was definitely one of my playoff highlights there, playing that series and getting to the conference finals,” Ebbett recalled. “In Binghamton we didn’t make the playoffs my first year, so that was my first taste of playoff hockey. [The series] was back and forth, and I remember Timmy Brent scoring with about 30 seconds left in game seven, kind of putting the dagger in us.”
The Ducks moved their AHL affiliation to the Midwest the following year, and Ebbett spent 28 games suiting up for the Iowa Chops. But he contributed at the NHL level as well, recording 32 points (eight goals, 24 assists) in 48 regular-season games with Anaheim.
He also appeared in all 13 of the Ducks’ postseason contests, including a memorable seven-game series against the eventual Western Conference champion Detroit Red Wings.
“It just kind of made me appreciate the teams that win the Cup,” Ebbett said of the experience, “because we had only made it two rounds and every guy in our room was exhausted and beat up. And to imagine that the team that wins it had to go two more rounds, you kind of appreciate what it means to win that Cup.”
Ebbett has enjoyed stints with the Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, Phoenix Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks and Pittsburgh Penguins since that memorable playoff run, and appeared in his 200th NHL contest as a member of the Pens last April.
He’s also proven to be an important part of every AHL club for which he has suited up.
“He’s a real special guy, and that’s one of the reasons why we wanted to have him signed to a two-year contract, because he provides tremendous National Hockey League depth,” said Hynes. “Just to have a player of his credentials and character and abilities is real important to be around your prospects when he’s in the American Hockey League.”
There’s no telling how many more games Ebbett will appear in during his career — “It’s pro hockey, you just don’t know what’s going to happen day to day,” he said — but in the true spirit of George Bailey, Ebbett certainly has enjoyed a wonderful (hockey) life.