Two of a Kind
Freshman Duo Paves Bright Path for Michigan State's Future
by Jashvina Shah/Staff Writer
On Feb, 15, Michigan State coach Tom Anastos dressed freshmen Mackenzie MacEachern and Thomas Ebbing on a different line.
“They responded fine,” Michigan State coach Tom Anastos said. “I didn’t sense any resistance or any issues whatsoever.”
Prior to the win over Penn State, MacEachern and Ebbing played in 28 games on the same line for the Spartans, which is not unusual in and of itself, except that they had been linemates all through high school while with Birmingham Brother Rice.
The pair also played together for the Chicago Steel in the USHL from 2012-13.
In a game against Muskegon during that season, MacEachern was hit from behind — Ebbing fought the player who hit MacEachern.
“It was a pretty big conflict that happened. It was actually right after he had got off a concussion, previous injury and he hit him pretty hard,” Ebbing said.
“I’m not only a teammate of Mackenzie but I’ve played with him so long that it’s just something I thought I needed to do.”
MacEachern doesn’t remember the first time he met Ebbing because it was so long ago.
“Probably back in diapers,” MacEachern said. “Probably like one or two years old since our dads have known each other since we were kids.”
They started playing together when they were around five years old. Although Ebbing can’t remember that experience he has seen pictures of the event.
MacEachern was born in March of 1994 and Ebbing in September of the same year, and the pair were a year apart academically. But in eighth grade, they played their first season together.
“Ever since then, we haven’t been separated,” MacEachern said.
While with Brother Rice, the Troy, Mich., natives won the Michigan State Division II Championship in 2012.
“Personally, they have a good rapport so they like being with each other,” Anastos said. “Having played as much together as they have, they seem to play off each other pretty well.
“That’s always helpful and you can kind of know what a guy might be thinking or how a guy might react in certain situations, so I think that’s been a benefit to them and it’s kind of a benefit to any players who have good chemistry.”
That chemistry translated to success for the Spartans, as the pair, along with fellow freshman William Haag, netted 21 points (10-11—21) in 19 games. The total ranks third this season amongst all Michigan State lines.
“We know each other so well, we know each others’ games, we know where we’re going to be and what our tendencies are,” MacEachern said. “It just helps us feed off each other in the game and just helps us make plays throughout the game.”
MacEachern said Ebbing’s work ethic creates chances for his linemates. Ebbing, who was drafted by the Steel two rounds after MacEachern, assisted on six of MacEachern’s goals this season.
“It’s an awesome opportunity and over the last so many years being able to play on the same team as him,” Ebbing said.
“From high school to juniors and now onto college and [we’re] just building chemistry from year after year, so it’s pretty nice.”
* * *
A few years ago, Brother Rice coach Lou Schmidt called Anastos about the two forwards. Anastos traveled to Detroit to watch the pair play in a pre-season high school game, and he was impressed.
“My initial impression of Mackenzie was he was a goal scorer and he’s a real tall guy amongst the guys he was playing with. He had real good reach and good range and good hands around the net,” Anastos said.
From Ebbing, Anastos saw how the forward created offensive chances, as well as his defense.
“When I watched Thomas, he was like the energizer bunny,” Anastos said. “He was constantly in motion, he had a high energy level and was a very aggressive player all over the rink and did a good job, I didn’t notice him as much from a scoring perspective but he was a very good two-way player.”
Initially, Anastos didn’t want MacEachern and Ebbing to play on the same line for Michigan State.
“We wanted to give them a chance to kind of create their own identity and not necessarily always be together, because I know it’s been like that since high school and through junior hockey,” Anastos said. “So we even didn’t room them together just so they had some space. Yet when we started to play, over a period of time, you could see that they had some chemistry and we were trying to find some lines. We thought we would try them, and when we did it was pretty effective and so we stayed with it.”
McEachern and Ebbing are two of three freshmen who’ve appeared in all 29 games for the Spartans. When playing on the same line, Ebbing and MacEachern have combined for 19 points this season.
Anastos said the pair, since arriving at Michigan State, has adapted to the Spartan style of play.
“They come to the rink every day with a really positive outlook, they like being around their teammate. Their teammates have really embraced them,” Anastos said. “They bring some personality to our team, which I think is a real positive. And in the dorms, on campus, they’re connecting with other students and trying to meet as many people as they can and working hard in school.”
For Anastos, Ebbing and MacEachern represent what it means to be a Spartan.
“We’re going through a rebuilding process here. Part of that process is to identify student-athletes who are going to come in here and really immerse themselves in the Michigan State experience, and they’re doing a really good job with that,” Anastos said.
“They’re doing all the things that I feel embodies what our program should represent, so that’s a good thing for our program. Certainly from a personal perspective I take great satisfaction in that.”
* * *
The coach said he eventually broke the pair up to help Michigan State’s offense, as the Spartans hadn’t scored more than two goals in a single game over a seven-game winless streak.
“You go through a season, especially as a freshman, you kind of reach some of the dog days,” Anastos said. “We’re in those dog days and you got to fight through.
“They’re going through that. Their line had some success and now it’s kind of been snake bitten the last several weeks.”
MacEachern, a Blues draft pick, hasn’t scored in 12 games. Before his scoring draught started, his 10 points ranked tied for third amongst Spartans.
“He’s probably a little frustrated he hasn’t scored in a while,” Anastos said. “Now you start to press and try to teach them how to fight through that without pressing and getting frustrated over it.”
Ebbing is on a three-game scoreless streak and has netted two assists in the 12 games MacEachern hasn’t scored.
“Same with Thomas a little bit, maybe lesser so from a goal perspective,” Anastos said. “But I think they’re just learning to fight through the rigors of a full season.”
* * *
The skaters, who hail from Troy, Mich., and live very close together, spend a lot of time together working out and training in the offseason. Ebbing can be quiet at first, but has a smart sense of humor.
“Thomas is more on the quiet side, and Mac is, he’s got a pretty outgoing personality. Not that Thomas doesn’t, but it’s just different,” Anastos said. “And so I guess if I just measure whose voice I hear more, I hear Mac’s voice more than I hear Thomas.”
While Anastos said he doesn’t see the pair together all the time, he’s not sure how much time they spend together. But MacEachern said his teammates make fun of Ebbing and MacEachern, calling the pair “brothers.”
“It’s a bond that we’ve had forever and pretty much is brotherly love,” Ebbing said
Anastos doesn’t know if the pair will return to the same line in the future, but he doesn’t think it will hinder either player.
“I know they’re capable of playing together, [but] at the same time you’re trying to find balance within your lineup,” Anastos said. “I think they would support whatever we choose. And that’s what makes them effective players here for us and effective teammates.
“They know, in the end, we’re trying to create as deep and as balanced a lineup up front as we can. They’re going to play wherever they’re asked too and they’ll embrace it.”