Ethan Bear is a rookie defenceman for the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers who is having immense impact both on and off the ice. The 22-year old was born and raised on the Ochapowace Cree Nation in Whitewood, Saskatchewan and has looked impressive in his first season as a regular on the Oiler’s blue line. The defenceman has tallied 16 points this season, and many believe his production warrants rookie of the year consideration. Bear spent the past two seasons in the AHL playing for the Bakersfield Condors where he exhibited solid defensive skills with potential offensive upside. In an interview conducted by the Edmonton Sun earlier this week, Bear commented that much of his success this season is attributed to all the hard work he did in the off-season to get ready for training camp. Bear believed it was just a matter of him “growing up and doing the things [he] needed” in order to be a regular NHLer.
Bear was a stand-out defenceman in the WHL for the Seattle Thunderbirds collecting 70 points with 28 goals in his final WHL season – helping the Thunderbirds hoist the league title and a berth in the Memorial Cup. Moreover, that same year Bear received honours for being the top defenceman in the WHL as he illustrated his talents on a nightly basis. Despite his achievements, Bear was only drafted in the 5th round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft (124th Overall), and the Oilers hoped he would develop his game into something the organization could rely on in the future. Thankfully, for the Oilers, Bear hasn’t disappointed as he has turned into a top four defenceman for the team, playing in a lot of crucial moments when games are on the line.
According to Bear, the minors were pivotal because it made him aware that he needed to get in better shape if he was going to make the jump to the next level. The Oilers were impressed with his performance during his two years in the AHL but wanted to make sure he was ready when the time came as they knew he was going to be relied on right away. The Oilers had to rely on Bear even more than expected after Adam Larsson suffered a leg-injury upon blocking a shot in the first game of the season. Yet, even with Larsson coming back into the line-up, the Oilers have remained reliant on Bear as he has averaged the fifth most ice-time on the team – behind Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, Leon Draisaitl, and Connor McDavid. Bear will need to be a crucial piece for the Oilers if the team wants to secure a spot in the playoffs for only the second time since 2006.
Bear hasn’t only found success on the ice, but off the ice as well by being a role model for young Indigenous youth in Canada. The rookie defenceman understands the honour and privilege of playing in the NHL, and he appreciates his reality by giving back to the people who have helped him get to where he is today. Bear is proud of who he is, the family he has, and the rich history his people share as Indigenous people. There are many people supporting Bear back home, and he wants to do his part to give back to his community. That’s why Bear started his own hockey school on the reserve he grew up on, to give back to the youth in his community because he wouldn’t be the individual he is today without them.
Bear is proud to be Indigenous, and he’s representing his people well both on and off the ice.
Sebastian Farkas is a Fourth Year Honours Politics Student and Sports and Wellness Editor of the Athenaeum.