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Bear has become offensive weapon for Seattle

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers

It truly was a thriller to watch.

Seattle had been dominant, vastly outshooting Kelowna but they weren't breaking through goaltender Micheal Herringer, and thus they trailed the Rockets 4-2 late in the third. With Game 4, and a sweep of the Rockets, hanging in the balance, Ethan Bear stepped up and delivered a clutch goal with 1:15 remaining in the final period to give the Thunderbirds life.

It's a moment Bear is unlikely to forget anytime soon.

"We didn't have much time left and we needed two goals," said Bear. "All I was thinking was how we just need to get a shot on net and we needed guys in front. I was thinking that once I get the puck, I'm going to shoot it. Smith gave me the puck and I was at about the dot. I saw a defender in front of me so I faked, pulled it back and shot low glove and it went in. I just couldn't believe it right away."

Photo by Getty Images.

Think about it - game on the line, home crowd escalating around you, the team rallying behind you - what a moment that must have been for the Oilers 18-year-old defensive prospect. But he wasn't focused on what was happening personally. Not with one goal left to go to tie and another to win.

"It was like a feeling of 'is this possible?' We could tie it up and we wouldn't have to go back to Kelowna," said Bear. "I think it's the loudest that rink has ever been. It was just amazing. It was an unbelievable experience. Sometimes, I still can't believe we did that. It's pretty amazing."

They did do it. In fact, Bear assisted on the equalizer with three seconds left in the third, sending the Seattle crowd into fits.

"I think everyone just believed," said Bear. "We all thought we could win, we could come back. We all were patient about it. We weren't screaming at each other to shoot or do something fancy. We took our time with the puck and we got shots when we could. As time went down, you could hear everyone talk more and wanting to shoot and I remember Barzal gave me the puck and yelled at me to shoot it. I did a quick fake to find a lane to get the shot and it just happened to get on Keegan's tape in front and he banged it in. At that point, that's when I knew we weren't going to lose the game."

Seattle went on to win 5-4 in double overtime to become the WHL Western Conference Champions.

In some ways, Bear, the Seattle Thunderbirds and even the Oilers, for that matter, can thank Ethan's older brother Everett for the younger's shot. There were long brotherly bonding sessions in which Ethan and Everett would go out and practice their snipes. Ethan was more interested in developing a powerful clapper than the wristers he used in Game 4, but those moments helped Bear develop his love for hockey.

"When I was younger, he was excited for me to play hockey so he always would help me on little things like skills, stick-handling and shooting pucks," said Bear. "He always helped me in those areas, so I was always a step ahead from the other players when I was younger. He really helped me a lot."

Photo by Getty Images.

Bear has developed into quite the offensive weapon for Seattle, with the Oilers fifth-round pick in 2015 potting 19 goals this season and adding 46 assists in 69 games. In the playoffs, he's lit it up with 15 points (6-9-15) in 13 games from the blueline.

In his third WHL season, Bear has enjoyed much success and it's a testament to his personal drive he developed back when he was 14. That was the age when Bear really became passionate about hockey. Personal drive led to a desire to be better. Successes this season have led to more confidence. Confidence has led to good numbers and personal success has helped push along team success. Bear is third on the T-Birds in scoring, and is the defensive leader in that category by a wide margin.

"Confidence, I guess, would have to be a huge one for me," said Bear. "I've felt confident throughout the whole year. For myself, I just tried to stay consistent. I didn't try to think I was too good or get too low. Consistency has been huge for me, and the coaches really helped with that. I always had something to learn. I always had plays where I needed to be better and I always worked at it. For me, I just try to make myself better every time I could."

The further into a post-season a young prospect plays, the more experience and the more benefit it has in the long run. Bear is now facing his next challenge, which happens to be a WHL Championship date with the highly potent Brandon Wheat Kings, who led the Eastern Conference in the standings with 102 points this season.

"We know they have a lot of high-end talent and are really offensive," said Bear. "I think it's going to be an exciting series because we pride ourselves on good defence. They have a strong core, but we have a strong core as well. I think at the end of the day it's going to be who works the hardest and who sacrifices to win. It's going to be an exciting season and we're all excited for it. I bet Brandon is too."

That series begins Friday in Brandon. Regardless of the result, the 2015-16 season has been an overwhelming success for the WHL Western Conference First Team All-Star. When the Oilers took him, they sat down with the defenceman and penned a list of areas for him to focus on, and he's hit on a lot of those areas.

"He's had a good year," said Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Peter Chiarelli. "He's really progressing. He makes a lot of plays. He's working on some areas we talked about, his strength and his skating. He's been a real good prospect this year."

"They just wanted me to make myself a better player," said Bear. "Instead of them telling me what they wanted, they asked me what I wanted to do. With the development program, we made notes of what I wanted to be better at and what I needed to improve at. For me, a huge thing was my defensive game, such as one-on-ones, positioning in the d-zone and all types of things. Another thing I wanted to improve on was getting my shots through and shooting quickly, with a quick release."

That latter area of Bear's game has been on display in these playoffs. He's certainly getting shots through quickly and it's one of the reasons the Thunderbirds were able to complete their Game 4 comeback.

"This year, I've done a good job at getting better in those areas," said Bear. "I'm just going to keep her going and keep improving."

Seattle and Bear are looking to "keep her going" in pursuit of a WHL Championship and a Memorial Cup appearance. Their journey continues this weekend.

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