Ochapowace’s Ethan Bear makes his mark on Edmonton’s blueline

In his first full year with the Edmonton Oilers, 22 year old Ethan Bear has established himself as a reliable NHL defenseman.

Bear was a 5th round draft pick by the Oilers in 2015.

He says his path to the NHL has been characterized by hard work, on and off the ice.

“I’m very pleased. I put myself in a good spot. And it’s you know it’s just about you know staying consistent, keep working hard and always continually try to grow as a player and as a  professional,” Bear said about his current situation with the Oilers.

Bear added the main difference of size and speed from the WHL (Western Hockey League) to the NHL was an adjustment he had to learn quickly.

“Definitely the jump from junior to pro is definitely speed and strength I’d say, guys are always in good positions and at the same time they’re you know they come prepared, they’re professionals and you know that’s a big step,” he said.

Changes in the organization last summer meant the new coaching staff were having a first look at many of the prospects – including Bear.

“We knew who we had under contract and then Adam Larsson got hurt in the first game of the season and Ethan stepped in and found his way and I think the most impressive thing about Ethan is he is able to play these top players, play big minutes, play in all situations, real early in the season and it just gave us a stability that was real important for us to have,” remarked assistant coach Jim Playfair on Bear’s play this season.

Assistant General Manager Keith Gretzky also praised Bear’s play, adding he has multiple facets to his game.

“When you have that ability to move the puck, you can’t take it away but I think his whole game has improved, defensive game has really come along. He competes hard but his smarts and his ability to get out of traffic he can zig-zag and especially you know under heavy fore-check pressure, he has that ability to get way find that open guy and get the puck to him,” Gretzky said.

When he was 6 years old, Bear attended a hockey camp run by NHL legend Fred Sasakamoose.

Now it’s Bear’s turn to give back. He returns each summer to Ochapowace Cree Nation in southeastern Saskatchewan to run a hockey program for local youth.

“I like to give back, not just to First Nations kids but any kids,” Bear said. “I’m very passionate about the game, I love the game, like everything I see is fun. Just trying to give them something I didn’t have growing up, just basically be there for them. I know how hard it is to step out of your comfort zone.”

Bear added the community is a big reason he is where he is today and the camp is one way to thank them.

“It’s a very close knit community, everyone knows each other. You know I’m very happy and fortunate to have a lot of supporting people behind me and to know where I come from and I like to go back and give back when I can,” he said.

Playfair added Bear’s play has set him up for long-term success at the NHL level.

“I think if you look at Ethan you dig into his culture and you know where he comes from and his family, and the whole package,” Playfair said. “He’s worked for this his whole life and quite honestly he’s a great leader in his own right. As a young player he has led by example and I think that’s going to continue on through his career and I see him being a captain one day.”

Bear says his older brother Everett was an early mentor along with NHLers.

“And then you know Tootoo, Carey Price, you know Jonathan Cheechoo, even Brandon Montour, like there’s so many guys that I just love to watch just because they’re First Nations and that’s just who I am,” added Bear on who he watched growing up and likes watching in today’s game.

Bear says he knows his career is just getting started but he’s not alone on his journey to NHL stardom.

“There’s a lot of pride in what I’m doing right now, being a good player and a role model and at the same time it’s nice. I wasn’t the first one and I’m not doing it alone,” he says.

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