It is rare feat to reach the top of the Western Hockey League mountain. 68 games (72 when this next player won it all), four rounds of best of seven and a ton of travel. To overcome all the obstacles a championship team needs to overcome, they need a deep and talented roster starting from the goal out. Seattle had depth and talent to spare in 2017, en-route to their first ever Ed Chynoweth Cup. The likes of Mathew Barzal, Keegan Kolesar, Ryan Gropp, Scott Eansor, Nolan Volcan, Alexander True and more highlighted a deep forward group, but on the back end, Seattle had one of the best in the league during that season. Of course, he’s on this list, at #9, Ethan Bear.
Bear was selected by the Thunderbirds in the second round, 25th overall in the 2012 Bantam Draft. Bear, born and raised in Regina, Saskatchewan is a member of the Ochapowace First Nation. Through Bantam and Midget, Bear was known for his offensive ability from the back end, and Seattle fans eagerly awaited him hoping that it could translate to the Western Hockey League. Bear got his first chance in the 2013 season, as a late season call up after his midget season ended. He got in one game that season, and it seemed clear he was ready to make the transition the following year.
September 2013 marked the start of “E-Bear’s” first full season in the WHL. Bear, a compact d-man with a nose for the net, Bear’s ability to move the puck from his own end and direct pucks on net from the point were clear from the very start. To his defensive game, although short in stature, Bear never shied away from playing the body, but was disciplined enough to never put himself out of position to lay a hit on anyone. Bear played in 58 games that season, putting up an impressive 19 points (6G, 13A) from the blue line. In nine playoff games Bear had two goals and two assists for four points, but were knocked out by the Kelowna Rockets in a four-game sweep in the second round. Ethan also had the honor of being named team captain for Canada West at the 2014 World Hockey Challenge.
Before Bear’s sophomore campaign began, he skated with Team Canada at the 2014 Ivan Hlinka Tournament, where he was part of a gold medal winning roster. His return to Seattle for his second full season saw improvements in all three zones and games played. Bear suited up for Seattle in 69 games and was elevated to the second pairing. He was given more responsibility, playing in all situations at full strength and on special teams. Bear’s point total for the year improved to 13 goals, 25 assists for 38 points, good enough for a tie for second among defenseman, behind only Shea Theodore. After the season, Bear re-joined Hockey Canada at the 2015 U18 World Junior Championships, where he helped Canada to a bronze medal. By June, Bear was ranked 97th by NHL Central Scouting for the upcoming entry draft. Bear was selected in the fifth round, 124th overall by the Edmonton Oilers.
Expectations for the Thunderbirds and Bear were high entering the 2015-2106 season. After pushing the heavily favored Winterhawks to six games in the previous year’s playoffs, Seattle’s youth was looking to take the next step forward. Bear and company had one goal in mind for that season, the Ed Chynoweth Cup. Bear remained a pillar of the Thunderbirds blue line, leaned on heavily again in all game situations. He appeared in 69 more regular season games, where he exploded offensively. He improved to 19 goals and 46 assists for 65 points. Bear and the T-birds also went on a memorable run to the WHL championship series that season. In 18 playoff games, Bear contributed 22 points (8G, 14A). Despite Seattle’s excellent post season, they fell to the heavily favored, Brandon Wheat Kings in five games. The first three games all went to overtime.
With the sour taste of defeat on their tongues, the Seattle Thunderbirds were ready to make the final push in 2016-2017. Bear was elevated to the team’s top pair with partner Turner Ottenbreit. Before the season got under way, Bear was suspiciously not invited to team Canada’s summer U20 World Junior Summer Showcase. Possibly using this as part of his motivation for the season, Bear had a career year with the Thunderbirds. He laced up for 67 regular season games, posting a career high in goals, scoring 28 times and adding 42 assists for 70 points. Bear’s slap shot had been put on display the previous season, but became known around the league in his final year with Seattle. Countless one-timer goals set up by Barzal, helped Bear cement himself as a premier power play defenseman in the WHL.
As the playoffs kicked off, Seattle was without Barzal for the first round, meaning other players needed to step up. Bear was one of those players. An alternate captain throughout the season, Bear’s leadership qualities were on full display during Seattle’s historic run. Through 17 playoff games, Bear compiled an outstanding 26 points (6G, 20A). Bear’s toughness will never come into question ever again either, as he suffered a broken hand during game four of the Western Conference Final against Kelowna, and was right back in the lineup to start the championship series against Regina. He even added two points in the opening game. Bear helped Seattle to their first title in franchise history and was named WHL (West) first team all-star for the second consecutive season and was the recipient of the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy, as the WHL’s top defenseman.
Bear’s legacy will live on in Seattle for years to come. He is currently the second all-time scorer (regular season) in franchise history and currently leads all defensemen in playoff scoring in franchise history. Bear has enjoyed success at the next level, playing in two full seasons with the Bakersfield Condors, the AHL affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers. He has already gotten into 18 NHL games, scoring his first career NHL goal against the Anaheim Ducks, with his former head coach Steve Konowalchuk on the Ducks bench as assistant to Randy Carlyle. Bear is also a pillar in his community back home with the Ochapowace First Nation, holding an annual summer hockey camp for youth with many of his former Seattle Thunderbirds teammates helping him run the camp.