Few players come into the USHL as a 15-year-old, and even fewer of them have three of the top hockey agencies competing to represent them later in their career, but that's the case for Waterloo Black Hawks defenseman Nick Ebert. It's not really surprising, though, because who wouldn't want a percentage of a player who appears almost destined to become of the best American defensemen of his generation and potentially one of the best blueliners the United States has ever produced?
In Part II of a three-part feature interview conducted by McKeen's correspondent Kevin Wey, Waterloo Black Hawks defenseman Nick Ebert discusses his representation options, high school hockey in New Jersey, a talented teammate who know plays in the OHL, other potential options in New Jersey he had, how developed his advanced skating and skill level, and how he deals with all the attention.
McKeen's: I've mentioned how very few 15-year-olds play in the USHL, and even fewer of them could potentially have Don Meehan as their agent, or advisor I should say. At what point did Meehan approach you, how did he go about approaching you? What's that process like?
Ebert: Well, when I was in a tournament in Toronto, I went up there and was I invited to their office. I'm not committed to any agent right now, but I went up there and he invited me to the office and we talked for a little bit, went over some options. I went from there and keep in touch with him a little bit every now and then, but I'm still deciding which agent I want. It's a pretty important decision, but not really, at the same time. You're going to need one, eventually, down the road, if I get that far.
McKeen's: If I might ask, who are some of the others that are vying to represent you?
Ebert: Ian Pulver's agency, CAA, those are the top three right now, with Meehan.
McKeen's: All big names.
McKeen's: You're not going to go too wrong on any of those three.
Ebert: I'm sure they're all going to give me all the help I'm going to need.
McKeen's: You played for the North Jersey Avalanche last year, but you also played for Livingston your high school team, and I understand you were the rookie of the year in that league. Focusing on North Jersey first, where did they get most of their players, meaning where else did they play, and what's their schedule like?
Ebert: High school's pretty big in New Jersey. A lot of guys play it along with travel. So, a lot of guys were playing for some of the prep schools, like Bergen Catholic and Delbarton, and Seton Hall. The schedule is almost every day we had hockey. It was always travel first, though. That's what was the most important thing. We always had to play travel first, and then if we had time, we played high school. But, almost every day we had something. We always had high school practice or a midget practice, or something like that.
McKeen's: With high school, how does New Jersey high school hockey compare to the midget minor hockey you played? I think I read you played forward, too, is that right?
Ebert: Yep. There's certain divisions in high school in New Jersey. There's the top division, and then there's a couple bottom divisions. I was, about, in the middle division. In the top division, it would compare to midget hockey, for sure. It's definitely there, maybe better, I don't know. It's probably around there. But the league I was in was probably under midgets, but it was still alright, though.
McKeen's: Still hockey to play.
Ebert: Yep, still hockey. So?
McKeen's: How is it determined what division a team is in? Is that size of school?
Ebert: It's usually size of school and how many kids actually play hockey and go to the tryout, and that's pretty much what determines it.
McKeen's: That makes some sense, because you could probably have certain cities in New Jersey, especially as you approach New York City that are quite large?
Ebert: But not many hockey players.
McKeen's: Right. Not many hockey players, kids who, unfortunately, probably can't afford to play hockey. I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you about Nick Malysa, who you skated with, who's now playing for Plymouth. How would you describe him as a player, strengths and style?
Ebert: Nick Malysa, I talk to him every week, actually, keep in touch a lot. He's just such a solid defenseman. Last year, I don't think he ever got beat once last year. He's a strong kid. He's a pretty big kid. He's just as solid as they come for a defenseman, I'll tell ya that.
McKeen's: Even though you were only 14 last year, and I'm not sure how the rules work for these two leagues with age, but was there any opportunity to play in the "EJ" (Eastern Junior Hockey League) or the "AJ" (Atlantic Junior Hockey League) or did you have to be 16 to play in those leagues?
Ebert: Well, I was talking to a couple teams in the "EJ," like the [New Jersey] Hitmen, and also the Rockets in the AJHL. But, if I wasn't going to do this, I was probably going to play for one of those two teams. If it wasn't Black Hawks, it was either Avs U16, maybe the Rockets, or maybe even the Hitmen.
McKeen's: If I remember right, the Hitmen have a few guys who played for them last year who are in the USHL now.
Ebert: Yeah, they've had a pretty good program for the "EJ." They're probably the top program in the league.
McKeen's: I remember a few years ago the Black Hawks had a defenseman named Christian Jensen and he played first for the Rockets?
Ebert: Oh really?
McKeen's: ? and was actually drafted by the San Jose Sharks out of there.
McKeen's: And at the time, I was like, "What?" But then he played for the Hitmen and then he came to the USHL. It's interesting that those two were on his path and could have factored in for you, but geographically it would have made sense.
McKeen's: You're listed at 6-foot-1, 185, and you almost seem taller than that to me. When did you end up so tall and do you know what you might top out at?
Ebert: Umm, I've always been a pretty big kid. Usually the tallest in my class. But, I don't know. When I was younger, I hit a pretty big growth spurt and was probably the tallest kid on our team, one of the two every year. I don't know, really, how tall I will eventually grow to, but I'm hoping to get a couple more inches, definitely.
McKeen's: What are you at now?
Ebert: I'm about 6-foot-1, around there.
McKeen's: How long have you been 6-1?
Ebert: Probably about two months.
McKeen's: Oh, okay, Recent.
McKeen's:John Moore, when I was talking to him last year, he was tall at that point, but he went through a six-inch growth spurt that put him from smaller defenseman to being tall and a very good skater. Obviously you're a standout player now, but at what point did it become apparent in your youth hockey that you were at that caliber?
Ebert: Definitely two years ago. Two years ago I started to really move up on the charts, I guess, if you want to call it that. I really started to develop a lot more and people were starting to really recognize me. That's when I really started to realize, "Hey, I might be able to do this later on." Now I'm here. It's one of my steps if I'm going to make it.
McKeen's: You touched upon skating with the ex-Rangers' power skating coach, but what are some of the other experiences in your youth hockey career that helped you develop at such an early age?
Ebert: Well, Randy Velischek, he's a former NHLer, his son was just drafted this year.
Ebert: Yeah. I took lessons with both of them, actually. He helps me out a lot in the summer. I took a lot of lessons with him before I went up to the Festival and out here. He helped me a lot this year with all the lessons he gave me.
McKeen's: Does Randy focus more on skating, or is he stick skills, or everything?
Ebert: He can do pretty much everything. Anything you want, you ask him, he'll do it. He usually does all of those each lesson. So, he really helped me out a lot this year in the summer.
McKeen's: Hour-long lessons?
Ebert: Yeah, about an hour.
McKeen's: That seems like the norm. There's talk that you'll go top five in the OHL Priority Selection next year. So, what is your projected career path? How long do you anticipate playing here? Are you leaning one direction? Still looking at college?
Ebert: I'm definitely still looking at college. I'm not really worried about the OHL Draft right now. I don't have to worry about it. I want to be here for at least a couple years, for sure. I'm really planning on going to college, talking to a couple colleges now. I'm not really worried about the OHL right now.
McKeen's: You're a sophomore, right?
McKeen's: The rules with that, they can't talk to you in person yet.
Ebert: Right, I'm not allowed to talk with them in person just yet.
McKeen's: I bet they're looking forward to when that changes. With the talk of the OHL Priority Selection, I saw that the Hockey News ended up beating me to the punch a tiny bit, even though I'd been talking about you for a bit, and soon you'll have a feature in McKeen's, too. What's it like to garner this sort of attention so soon?
Ebert: It's pretty fun, I'll tell you that. It's pretty cool getting interviewed by pretty big names, like you guys, and Hockey News, and stuff like that. But, I just try to not worry about that and just keep playing hockey. Because, if you're head's going to get too big, you're not going to make it. You've really got to just continue to think about hockey and about being here and winning.
McKeen's: That goes well into my next question. Getting all this attention so soon, is there any fear that you might grow complacent, or what do you do to make sure that you fight that and do not?
Ebert: I just keep telling myself, "If I'm the best, I've got to play like the best." If people say I'm the best, I've got to play like the best.
McKeen's: Then you have a reputation to live up to.