Ethan Bear timing players during a skating drill.

Ethan Bear Hockey Skills Camp Ethan Bear shares his love of hockey at home

August 1, 2018 4:35 pm
Kara Kinna

The shouts of kids, the scrape of skates on ice, the sound of pucks hitting the boards and the encouraging shouts of instructors—these were the sounds that greeted the ears of anyone walking into the Chief Denton George Multiplex at Ochapowace First Nation last week.

Last week marked the second time that the Ethan Bear Hockey Skills Camp was held in Ochapowace, with 115 kids from around Western Canada, and even Ontario, coming out to skate with Ethan and instructors made up of his former teammates from the 2017 WHL championship Seattle Thunderbirds.

The group of instructors was impressive. They included Ethan himself, who just skated his rookie year with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers; Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders, and the 2018 NHL Rookie of the Year; Ryan Gropp, a New York Rangers Prospect with the AHL Hartford Wolfpack; New York Islanders prospect Scott Eansor with the Bridgeport Sound from Englewood, Colorado; Colorado Avalanche prospect Turner Ottenbreit with the AHL’s Colorado Eagles. Nolan Volcan with the Seattle Thunderbirds; Donovan Neuls with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies; Brian Albee with the BCHL’s Chilliwack Chiefs, who were the 2018 RBC Cup Champions; and Rylan Toth, the goaltender for the University of British Columbia.

The dryland instructor was Wesley Sunshine, a three-time Canadian National Team Senior Boxing Champion from 1987-1991 in featherweight and lightweight from Regina.

And then there was the man who helped put the camp all together along with Ethan—Courage Bear, a relative and close family friend who was named Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association Coach of the Year for 2017-2018, is the Saskatoon Contacts Midget AAA Assistant Coach, and who has a Kinesiology degree from University of Saskatchewan.

Giving back & going home

During four solid days out on the ice with the kids last week, Ethan Bear spoke about how the camp got going and what he wanted the kids to take away from it.

“Basically it’s just the basics of being able to skate and stick handle when they are on the ice. It’s the simplest skills of playing hockey. We make drills where they do stations and then at each station we incorporate a different skill that they are not even going to know they are learning,” he says. “We want to focus on stick handling and rolling their wrist. And we basically just want them to have fun and enjoy it.”

Although they try to cap the number of registrants for the camp at around 100, this year they took 115 young hockey players.
“With the amount of guys that we have and the way we run things, we were able to bring in more kids and give more kids an opportunity to learn,” says Ethan.

The camp is open to anyone who wants to come out, and while some come from Ochapowace itself, others have come from as far as Edmonton, Alberta, Manitoba, and even Ontario.

Why did Ethan decide to start a hockey camp?

“It’s an idea I’ve had for a while, when I was playing in Seattle,” he says. “I just threw it out there. I told the guys I was going to have a hockey camp with or without them and if they wanted to come and join, it could be a week to see each other again and reminisce on old memories. They all liked the idea. And that’s the best part for all of us is that we get to be together and hang out, and at the same time do something good for the community and for kids. It’s a way of giving back.

“It’s a pretty expensive camp, so if you want to be a part of it and hang out with these guys, we give every kid the right amount of attention that they deserve. It’s definitely not an inexpensive camp but it’s well worth it.

“I always want to give back to my community because growing up we never had anything, we always had to go out of town or go to Regina or someplace far away if I wanted to get some skills work in. And then I had this idea, and I think it’s perfect. It gives kids an opportunity that not everybody gets. It’s definitely one of a kind.

“It’s a good school. There are a lot of skills and a lot of thought that gets put into it. Courage Bear, he thinks of the drills and tells us how we should run them and gives us a specific skill we should work on in each drill, and I think it works well. You see kids getting better each day and it’s pretty noticeable.

“He coaches Midget AAA, and he won coach of the year, and when I had this idea he was a big part of it. I called him up, and it wouldn’t be as easy as it is, and fun, without him. He definitely has a big role in this group. He’s like our leader out there. He makes sure everyone is on the same page, and the work sheets he does and all the skills he thinks of are pretty helpful for us.”

Ethan says the kids at the camp are pushed pretty hard, but the main objective is for them to realize how fun hockey is.

“I hope they realize it’s hard work but it’s fun. I just hope kids can have fun enjoying this game as much as we all do and they could see the competitive part of it as well as the skills part of it—but at the same time having fun is the best part.

“You see a lot of kids, on their first day, they don’t like it, and then by the third day they can’t wait to get back on the ice. I think the biggest thing we preach here is fun.

“I just hope they just try to play and step out of their comfort zone, because playing hockey for other teams in other places can get overwhelming. I just want them to enjoy the hockey side of it and the practice side of it and realize it’s a fun sport.
“Just have fun, enjoy it, and do what you want to do. It’s not scary to play with other people, it’s fun. Just enjoy it, it’s a good sport. Don’t overthink it too much.”

Ethan will be getting back to training this week.

training once this is over, I will be in Regina. I have a few trainers there and will just be getting ready for the season,” he says. “I come home pretty much every weekend. I’m only in Regina, it’s not a far drive. I do my work there and then when it’s done I come home.”
He says people at home in Ochapowace are proud of him for his NHL career, but home is still a place where he can relax and slip into his old skin, and just be Ethan.

“They are always telling me good job they are proud of me,” he says. “It’s a weird process. It doesn’t really hit you right away that you made the NHL, and I am who I am. Coming home here, I can be myself. I get a sense of being relaxed and stress free, so it’s a good environment when I come here. Everyone here knows who I am, they know my roots, they treat me like their own, and that’s the most important part. It’s definitely pretty cool.”

Helping out

Courage Bear plays a big role in co-ordinating the hockey camp hosted by Ethan. Although he now lives in Saskatoon, Courage grew up in Ochap and likes coming back to the community to give back and help out.

“Over 20 years ago I started getting involved in coaching when I was living here, I came back from playing junior hockey. I started running minor hockey in Ochap, so that was when I got started in coaching and went on from there.

“I grew up in Ochap, then I moved away to play hockey and then go to university, and I try to come back to be involved in the community.

“I’ve known Ethan’s family and we are related, and Ethan just reached out knowing that I was involved in coaching. I guess it made sense that he’s on the playing side, I’m on the coaching side, we just connected to put the camp on.

“I lay out the lesson plans for the week and have progressions built in—how we want to start the week and what skills we want to have in the camp—and then I build the drills around that and I have our group leaders run stations and individual skills. I just try to lay out the framework that we work with to make sure we are accomplishing something, that there are objectives, and we are not just going out blindly.”

Courage says it’s important for the kids at the camp to be able to connect through hockey and role models like the instructors there.
“Hockey is a big sport in our community, and also the ability for Ethan to come out and work with the role models on the ice is key—being able to see people have success, and what sport can give them—not just hockey, but sport in general, the opportunities it brings, and the friendships.

“So I just think it’s good from a role model perspective and just to keep kids active.

“The group we’ve had the last couple years are committed to the broader objective of the clinic and they see the value of it. Not only do the kids get something out of it, but the players get something out of it from working with the kids.”

He says he sees a real improvement in the kids at the camp.

“I think each day you look for a little bit of improvement. If the kids take something small out of the clinic, then I think we’ve accomplished something. You see the improvements through the week, so I think that’s rewarding. Plus just the confidence they gain and getting to hang out with their friends and work together, I think it’s an overall positive experience for all of the kids.

“We don’t want to leave anybody behind, we hope that all of the kids are enjoying themselves.

“I think the friendships that they develop are important, because there are kids they don’t know. But the other important thing is to see what you can accomplish if you put your mind to it by skating with these guys that are role models and play at high levels. There are life lessons—coming, applying yourself to get better in a specific thing and then applying that in your life as you go on, whether it’s work or a sport.”

What does Courage think about Ethan’s commitment to give back?

“I can’t say enough good things about what he does to give back,” he says. “It’s pretty special. You don’t have to do it, right? I’m pretty proud of him.

“He knows the challenges that we face in our community sometimes, so he gets it, and he knows that he’s in a position where he can have influence. He appreciates that, he appreciates what he has, but I think he realizes the importance of giving back.

“He doesn’t just come here to be a figurehead. He gets actively involved. That’s the biggest thing. He’s on the ice as much as me, wanting to be out there. He wants to be involved.”