Every player skating at UBC this week has a spring in their step and a visible relief that hockey is back etched on their faces. It’s training camp all over again, that burst of excitement that everyone feels – fan, player and writer alike – (usually in the later Summer) about new beginnings and a chance to do something special. Just ask Jordan Schroeder and Andrew Ebbett.
The news has come down: Alain Vigneault said in his Friday morning press conference that those two will be going head-to-head for the second line centre job.
For Schroeder, with Ryan Kesler still out and timetable-less for a return, the young Minnesotan’s time is clearly now. Only Andrew Ebbett stands between him and starting the season in Vancouver’s top-six. Despite concerns about his size, Schroeder has always been known as a two-way player, with strong puck sense and powerful skating.
Ebbet spent a lot of time last year out injured. But when he was in the lineup, he was a positive possession player and could be a serious darkhorse contributor in this lockout-shortened season.
Click past the jump for a Q&A with Schroeder and Ebbett on their own seasons so far, what they’ve been working on and their paths forward.
Patrick Johnston: A bit of a battle this season in Chicago, you guys never seemed to get firing, what do you think was missing there?
Jordan Schroeder: "I’m not sure, we had to contend with a bit of inconsistency. As a team, we had some ups and downs but when we were on, we were on. That’s part of growing and learning as a young guy."
PJ: One of the things that I heard a lot about was how focused you were coming into Wolves camp… What did you draw on for motivation in advance of camp?
JS: "Well obviously I want to be up here [with the Canucks]. But I put in the back of my mind – if the lockout ended, maybe I’d get a shot up here. My main focus was to come to practice everyday, to listen to the coaches, to learn as much as I could from them, to become a better player."
PJ: In your off season preparation was there something in particular that you focused on?
JS: "Not really, it’s the same thing every year, you need to get stronger, quicker. I really worked on my shot some. I’ve got to shoot the puck more, I think I have a pretty decent shot; put the puck on the net and good things happen."
PJ: Is it just a question of confidence, then? Each season you’ve played pro you’ve taken more shots, clearly you know that when you get the puck on net, you’re going to score; is that all it’s ever been?
JS: "I think so, gaining the experience over the past couple years, learning. I’ve got to have confidence in my shot because when I do, it’s on. I’ve just got to get pucks to the net."
PJ: If you have to play wing, is that something you are willing to do? Obviously you want to stay in the middle, but are you comfortable on the wing?
JS: "You know, I think they’ve tried me there in the past, maybe my first year I think, but I didn’t really know how to play the game then. In the past couple years, I’ve learned so much more, that I think I could play right, centre or left and I’d be just fine."
PJ: Obviously the World Juniors just wrapped up with the US winning gold. Is that one of your best hockey memories, or is there another one that stands out for you?
JS: [grins] "Nah, for sure, winning that gold, on Canadian soil [chuckles] that was an honour. I’ll never forget it. Definitely the best memory so far."
PJ: That give you a lot of material in the Chicago locker room?
JS: "[chuckles again] Ya for sure, a lot of Canadians down there too so I was definitely busting their balls."
PJ: What’s your toughest hockey memory?
JS: "You know, my first year as a pro, it was an up and down season. A lot of learning. Trying to figure out what I needed to do to become successful. You know i look back on it, I had Claude Noel as a coach. He said ‘one day, maybe this summer, you are going to realize that what you need to do and that this year will help in the long run, even though sometimes it was tough. And he was right, I give him a lot of credit for saying that. I think I learned a lot from him."
PJ: Noel’s been mentioned a lot, I’ve read you saying it, Connauton’s mentioned it too – what was it for you young guys…
JS: "It was learning how to be a pro and how to play consistently every night. With us coming from major junior or college, we had to adapt. It was a tough learning curve for us. If you talk to him [Connauton], he going to say it was a tough year, but he learned a lot and he’s a better player for it."
Andrew Ebbett also has the chance to make an impact on a top NHL team in the early going this season. The 30-year-old had a solid season in Chicago so far this season, playing first line minutes.
PJ: There’s big possibilty, with Kesler out, that you’ll be able to step into the second line spot. What do you feel about how the first half went in Chicago, settting you up for this challenge.
AE: "I think it was huge for me, it was a chance to play. I didn’t play very much last year, with the injuries. It was nice to get some confidence even if it was a bit of a slow start for the team down there but we’ve been really picking it up down there."
PJ: What about in terms of your own game, one of the things that those of us who pay close attention to some of the numbers see is that you play a strong possession game, that when you are on the ice you have a positive influence; what is it that leads to that? Your skills, your vision?
AE: "[Laughs] I think it’s a lot of just hockey sense. I’ve always been one of the smaller guys, I’ve had to learn to adapt, to use my teammates, to use my speed. I think when I play centre I can help my wingers get the puck. I like to control puck possession and get the puck out of our end and into their end as much as possible."
PJ: As you said, you had a lot of time lost to injuries last year, but obviously you had a lot of chances to observe the team, will that actually be a positive for you?
AE: "It’s nice to come back to the same team; I’ve bounced around a lot the last five, six years. So it’s good to come back to familiar surroundings. I know what the players are like and what the coaches expect of me."
PJ: What in particular did the coaches talk to you about in the offseason? What in particular did they focus on, coming into this year?
AE: "It’s just versatility, be ready to adapt to any situation. I got that down in Chicago, playing penalty kill, power play, some big minutes down there. It helps me be ready for anything."
PJ: On the side of a little more fun, what’s your best hockey memory?
AE: "Probably my first NHL start – I got to stand beside Teemu Selanne for the national anthem, that was pretty special.
PJ: The toughest?
AE: "That same year in anaheim, we lost in game 7 in the second round to Detroit, that one stung."
PJ: What’s the hardest thing you do to prepare for the season – the thing you hate the most but you know you have to do?
AE: "I used to say the gym but just the workouts, I actually enjoy them now, with the guys I work out with. I think now, it’s just the ‘getting up early’ part, getting up and going to the rink. Once you’re there, it’s all good, but it’s the getting yourself up and out of the house thing that’s hard."
PJ: The workout thing, was it getting some guys you were comfortable with?
AE: "Yeah, the guys I skate with in the summer and the trainer I’ve had for the past three years are awesome back in Michigan. It makes it fun to go to the gym. A few years back it was tough but now it’s fun place to be."