If (more like when) Nick Ebert plays in the NHL someday, the New Jersey Devils will be able to take some credit. Without a few members of the Devils' dynasty in the late 1990s flipping some pucks at practice to a two-year-old they didn't even know, it's difficult to know if Ebert would have picked the game up so soon and set the stage to potentially become one of America's best or even have played the game at all. So, if a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil causes a tornado in Texas, then maybe a Devil flipping a puck in New Jersey can cause a virtuoso in Vancouver, a whiz in Washington, phenom in Phoenix (if there's still a team there) 18 years later.
In Part III of a three-part feature interview conducted by McKeen's correspondent Kevin Wey, Waterloo Black Hawks defenseman Nick Ebert discusses his youth hockey in New Jersey, some NHL defensemen past and present he looks up to, and what drives him to succeed.
McKeen's: Going back to your youth, when did you first start playing hockey and how did you get that start?
Ebert: I started playing (pauses), well, I remember I went down to the South Mountain Arena in New Jersey, where the New Jersey Devils used to practice, and I was about two or three years old, and I saw a bunch of the guys and they were flipping pucks over to me. So, I was like, "Yeah. I think I want to play hockey." So, I started skating when I was around three. I started getting fully equipped when I was about four years old. That's pretty much when it started, and I've been playing ever since, and I enjoy it every day.
McKeen's: Dad play at all?
Ebert: My dad really didn't play any hockey at all. He played some roller hockey, that was pretty much it.
McKeen's: With the youth hockey, what were the different organizations that you skated for coming up through the different youth age groups?
Ebert: I played with the New Jersey Devils a little bit. I played for the Ramapo Saints. I played for the New Jersey Colonials as well. I played the last four years with Avalanche, and they really helped me a lot.
McKeen's: How old were you with the Junior Devils, or Amateur Devils?
Ebert: I played for the Devils my first year of travel. That was mite. Then I went over to the Colonials for a couple years. Then I went up to the Ramapo Saints. Saints, I was with them for squirt major, then I went back over to the Colonials pee wee minor, and then I played with the Avalanche for the last four seasons after that.
McKeen's: At what point did you start playing up an age group?
Ebert: I played up every year I played.
McKeen's: So how many years of bantam did you end up playing?
Ebert: I played two years of bantam?
McKeen's: How many years of midget minor?
Ebert: Just one year.
McKeen's: I've read you look up to Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty, but who were some of the players earlier in your youth that were your favorites, admired, and wanted to emulate?
Ebert: Definitely Scott Stevens, being a New Jersey guy. What's not to like about that guy? He's a leader. A great defenseman, one of the best. He's just such a great guy. He lives in the New Jersey area now. He was one of the Devils' best defensemen and I always looked at him like, "I want to be like him."
McKeen's: Definitely a very good two-way defenseman. His offense, there were a couple seasons where he had some pretty good numbers?
Ebert: Yeah. Yeah.
McKeen's: ? but he was still pretty solid offensively.
Ebert: Yeah, he was. He always had, pretty much, a two-way game. He didn't put up big numbers some years, but his defense made up for that anyway.
McKeen's: And when you have Scott Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski? You let them do their thing.
Ebert: When they got traded, I was a little frustrated (chuckles). A little rattled.
McKeen's: Unfortunately for fans and player's families, that's part of the NHL. Moving back to Johnson and Doughty, what is about them that you admire and look up to?
Ebert: They're both just unreal defensemen. They both have so much offensive skill and they both play defense like they're really supposed to. Some guys, they're offensive defensemen and they don't really worry about defense. Both of those guys play as much defense as they do offense, which I really like. They both just have unreal skill.
McKeen's: The Kings definitely have reason for optimism for the future with some of the young guys. Dean Lombardi did a very good job building the Sharks and now he's with Los Angeles and it looks like it might just happen again. Does that make you a Kings fan or still a Devils fan?
Ebert: I'm still a Devils fan for sure.
McKeen's: (Chuckles) I didn't know if that was more player specific or team specific.
Ebert: (Chuckles) Yeah.
McKeen's: What would be the biggest compliment someone could give you in regards to hockey where if you read it or heard, you'd say, "Wow. Thanks!"
Ebert: Saying I'm one of the top players in North America. It's pretty cool to hear that, people talking about you and putting in the category of top player in North America.
McKeen's: You say that, and that has been said.
McKeen's: Humbling and exciting at the same time.
McKeen's: Looking toward the future, even though this is kind of a ways away, do you ever thing about things like potentially playing for Team USA at the World Junior Championships, or the 2012 Draft, NHL, maybe even the Olympics? Do you ever think about those sorts of things?
Ebert: I think about those things every day almost. That would be such a dream for me to get drafted in the NHL and play for a World Junior Team, or a U20, or U18, or U17, whatever is offered for me. All of those things, I think about things every day, almost. I just absolutely would love to be a part of any of those.
McKeen's: Team USA has their Under-17 and Under-18 teams, but I suspect they would still find a way to invite you and let you tag along (said with understatement). That's a good thing that they will add a couple pieces for those major tournaments. I guess lastly, and I think you've touched upon this, but anyone who has ever accomplished much of anything big in their life, they've had a vision in their head of some achievement or experience that they wanted to have. I've heard it said that task without vision is drudgery?
McKeen's: ? and vision without task is deception, you're fooling yourself. So, what is that for you? What is the vision that drives you, that you picture in your head as being that thing that makes all the hard work that you're putting in now worth it?
Ebert: First part is just getting drafted, then having a career in the NHL. That would completely define that.
McKeen's: Sure. I didn't know if in your mind that moment was signing the contract, or being on the podium on draft day, or something specific, because I suspect, if all things go well, you'll end up walking up onto the podium while Versus is covering the draft.
Ebert: If I ever get a chance to go up there and just have my name on a back of a jersey of an NHL team, honestly, that'd definitely be what I've been working toward.