Ethan Bear is going to get used to hearing the Star Spangled Banner and seeing the colours red, white and blue this year.
The 16-year-old defenceman cracked the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds in his first year of major junior eligibility.
“It was a great feeling to make it past all of those cuts,” said Bear, who played for SMAAAHL’s Yorkton Harvest last year. “It was my goal to make the team and was really hopeful I’d be able to do it.”
Albeit Bear seemed to be in the Thunderbrids’ plans this year, he wasn’t a lock to make the team. They had seven returning blueliners from last year. But after seeing what the Ochapowace, Sk., native brings to the table, they made room. They dealt 18-year-old Taylor Green to the Brandon Wheat Kings and 20-year-old Jesse Forsberg, who was their captain last year, to the Moose Jaw Warriors.
“I wasn’t really sure how everything would work out,” said Bear, who Seattle selected 25th overall in the 2012 WHL bantam draft. “I knew they had a lot of guys coming back so that made me unsure. I just played my game every night hoping it would be good enough to stay here.”
In training camp, Bear felt the process went fairly smooth the second time around.
“Some guys took me under their wing and really helped me out with everything,” he said. “They would show me this or that in what I needed to fix and it helped a lot. And I just tried to show I have good work ethic. I worked hard and that made everything go smooth.”
Harvest head coach Dan Cross had a pretty good feeling that he wouldn’t see Bear back with the team following his outstanding rookie season last year, where he scored seven goals and 35 points in 38 games.
“He’s a special player; I thought last year that he’d be in the WHL this year,” said Cross. “He wants it and is willing to make the sacrifices to get there. He deserves to be there and I think will do very well.”
Bear was surprised by how well he performed last year in Yorkton, crediting former head coach Jeff Odgers and Cross, who at that time was an assistant, for his success.
“After the first month or so where I was adjusting to the league, I didn’t expect to score as many points as I did,” said Bear. “I think the coaching really helped me out. Odgers and Cross did a great job.”
With a handful of major junior games under his belt, the 5-foot-11, 181-pounder has noticed a significant difference in the quality of hockey from the SMAAAHL.
“It’s a lot faster and everyone is just better,” said Bear. “The goalies are better and the players are more talented. It will take some time to adapt to it.”
Bear is fortunate to get the opportunity to play alongside an all-star defenceman with the Thunderbirds, Shea Theodore, who was selected by the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the 2013 draft. He feels he will be able to learn and grow faster because of his high-end defensive teammates like Theodore in Seattle.
“It’s great to have a guy like Shea on our team,” said Bear. “He knows what he’s doing and is so smooth with the puck. It’s great to get to watch him and learn from him. It really helps me out as a rookie to have guys like him on the team.”
Bear isn’t the only person in the Thunderbirds organization with a connection to Yorkton. Seattle’s goalie coach, Ian Gordon, grew up and played minor hockey in Yorkton.
“It’s nice to have someone else who lived in the same area in Saskatchewan as me,” said Bear. “We’ve talked about it before how we both lived in Yorkton and he’s a really great guy. It’s good to have him on the team.”