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FUTURE WATCH | Bear's big numbers bolster Thunderbirds

by Meg Tilley / Edmonton Oilers

Photo by Getty Images.

At the start of the season, Oilers prospect Ethan Bear and his WHL team, the Seattle Thunderbirds, were just 11 games in and already were 9-2-0. In that short amount of time, the blueliner had already scored three goals and added nine assists for a total of 12 points.

Fast-forward five months and the Thunderbirds are now celebrating clinching the 2016 U.S. Division title after beating the Spokane Chiefs 4-1 Tuesday night and extending their winning streak to 11 games.

“We [wanted] to stay focused and make sure we take care of the task at hand,” said Bear. “I think that’s what we’ve been doing lately and it’s been working. I think that we just have to just keep doing that and make sure we don’t get ahead of ourselves and we just want to keep playing our game, make sure we play hard and fast.”

Having already secured a playoff spot, the Seattle team is looking to wrap up the rest of their regular season with a strong finish in three games this weekend.

“I think it was [a] good [season] for us,” said Bear. “We accomplished a lot as a team… we faced some adversity losing a few guys [to injuries] but we came together and we showed that when we’re missing guys we can [still] play and win games without them. When they come back, we play even better so we’re learning to adapt to all these types of adversity that we face.”

This season, the 5-foot-11, 200-pound blueliner has made great gains in his personal development, generating scoring chances for his teammates and capitalizing on a few opportunities of his own.

In November, Bear recorded his first career hat-trick to give Seattle a commanding 5-1 victory over the Chiefs. He also added an assist to cap off a four-point night.

Selected by the Oilers in the 2015 NHL Draft, Bear was picked in the fifth round, 124th overall. He attended his first NHL training camp with Edmonton this summer and has blossomed as a top-pairing defenceman for the Thunderbirds in his third WHL season.

Ethan Bear celebrates his first career hat-trick. Photo by Brian Liesse / Seattle Thunderbirds.

Though he’s been logging large amounts of ice time and is among the team leaders in assists and points, Bear is still working hard on enhancing his level of skill.

“I think I’ve done a good job,” said Bear. “Throughout the season… it’s harder to build strength but I think I’ve been maintaining it and speed-wise I feel confident, I feel good. I thought I’ve done well this season for myself so I’m pretty happy with it.”

Happy may even be a bit of an understatement, as he has recorded 18 goals and added 43 assists for 61 points in 66 games, good enough for sixth in scoring among WHL d-men.

He’s continued his upward trend, increasing his player productivity by a sizeable amount each season, and has long surpassed the 38 points (13G, 25A) he accumulated in 69 games last season.

Even in the months when the goals weren’t flying, assists by the 18-year-old were still making an impact for the Thunderbirds. An offensive surge in January saw Bear go on a four-game scoring streak along with 12 points in seven games.

“I just wanted to stay even-keel and just made sure that I took care of the other things and not worry about the goals,” said Bear. “I didn’t really stress out on it much and I didn’t really think [too much] about it. When one thing isn’t going good, as a [defenceman], I need to take care of my own end first. So that was my priority.”

On March 5, Seattle clinched a spot in the 2016 playoffs with a 2-1 win over the Portland Winterhawks. Bear was a key contributor in his team taking a 1-0 lead thanks to a shorthanded goal he scored less than six minutes into the first period. With the victory, Seattle increased their win-streak to seven.

Last season, the Thunderbirds fell to the Winterhawks, their biggest rivals, in the Western Conference quarter-finals. This year, the regular season rivalry has seen the Thunderbirds dominate the series, posting a 7-3-0 record against the Winterhawks. They’ll face off twice more this weekend.

Photo by Brian Liesse / Seattle Thunderbirds.

“I think it’s just always nice to beat Portland,” said Bear. “It’s always nice to clinch playoffs and it’s always, just in general, it’s good to win, especially with the team we have. The depth we have up front and on the backend, teams expect us to win, and we’re very hard playing against. Especially against a rival team like Portland, it always feels good to beat those guys.”

Though the rivalry continues on the ice, there is a unique relationship that has been formed off it between Bear and Winterhawks defenceman Caleb Jones. The two Oilers prospects roomed together at training camp and have formed a tight bond. Jones, selected in the same draft year, was picked in the fourth round, 117th overall.

“We’re actually pretty good buddies,” said Bear. “At camp this year we roomed together and we’re pretty close. But when we play each other it’s pretty serious. Friends off the ice but on the ice we take the sport serious and there’s not much joking around going on at the time, but after the game we’ll talk… I enjoy having that friendship.”

Seattle is now 43-23-3-0 and has won 15 of their last 16 games. With the U.S. Division title now secured, Bear and the Thunderbirds are focused on continuing their win streak and preparing to open the playoffs at home on Friday, March 25, against a to-be-determined opponent, which could end up being their familiar foes from Portland.

“I think for us we just want to finish off the regular season with a few wins and take care of that,” said Bear. “Then for playoffs we’ll have…a different mentality going into it but it’s going to be a big run for us and we’re all pretty excited.”

Statistics For In The System Through Past Seasons: 14-15 | 13-14 | 12-13 | 11-12
Stats Updated as of Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Bakersfield (AHL) - Forwards


Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM
GREG CHASE C 20 19 1 6 7 +3 25
BRADEN CHRISTOFFER LW 21 30 1 3 4 -11 57
JOSH CURRIE* C 23 42 4 8 12 +3 37
LEON DRAISAITL C 20 6 1 1 2 -5 4
MATTHEW FORD*   RW 31 51 23 20 43 0 52
LUKE GAZDIC   LW 26 11 1 2 3 +1 6
RYAN HAMILTON   LW 30 53 18 11 29 -8 36
KELLEN JONES*   LW 25 12 1 2 3 0 6
ZACK KASSIAN   RW 24 7 2 1 3 0 16
KALE KESSY   LW 23 48 7 5 12 +4 62
JUJHAR KHAIRA   LW 21 37 10 16 26 +8 37
ROB KLINKHAMMER   LW 29 19 11 6 17 +1 30
ALEXIS LOISEAU*   C 21 12 1 2 3 +1 2
ANDREW MILLER   RW/C 27 44 15 24 39 +3 18
MITCH MOROZ   LW 21 35 3 5 8 +4 90
PHILIP MCRAE* C 25 25 4 2 6 -5 14
IIRO PAKARINEN   RW 24 4 1 2 3 0 4
TYLER PITLICK   RW 24 31 7 13 20 -1 4
KYLE PLATZER RW 20 40 5 10 15 -4 18
MARC-OLIVIER ROY* C 21 31 6 4 10 0 14
ANTON SLEPYSHEV LW 21 36 9 6 15 -11 20
JOSH WINQUIST*   LW 22 26 8 16 24 -7 30
BOGDAN YAKIMOV   C/W 21 23 3 6 9 -4 8
DANIIL ZHARKOV (INJURED)
LW 21 - - - - - -
Bakersfield (AHL) - Defencemen


Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM
BEN BETKER   d 21 4 0 1 1 +1 1
MARK FAYNE   d 28 4 0 1 1 0 4
brad hunt   D 27 45 10 26 36 +7 14
JOEY LALEGGIA   D 23 50 7 16 23 +6 34
DAVID MUSIL D 22 54 3 7 10 -3 35
NIKITA NIKITIN   D 29 30 1 13 14 -9 0
DARNELL NURSE   D 20 6 0 1 1 0 7
JORDAN OESTERLE   d 23 42 3 20 23 -1 8
NICK PAGEAU*   D 27 14 0 2 2 -3 4
GRIFFIN REINHART   D 21 27 2 7 9 +2 14
DILLON SIMPSON
D 22 44 2 13 15 +2 16
Norfolk (ECHL)


Name POS age    GP G A P +/- PIM
BEN BETKER D 21 49 3 14 17 -2 53
GREG CHASE F 20 32 16 15 31 +2 44
Canadian Hockey League
Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM team
CALEB JONES  D 18 69 10 43 53 +4 62 PORTLAND WINTERHAWKS (WHL)
ETHAN BEAR  D 18 66 18 43 61 +15 33 SEATTLE THUNDERBIRDS (WHL)
NCAA & USHL
Name POS age  GP G A   P +/- PIM team
EVAN CAMPBELL   LW 22 28 5  7 12 +4 16 UMASS-LOWELL (NCAA)
WILLIAM LAGESSON
D 19 27 2 5 7 -6 26 UMASS-AMHERST (NCAA)
JOHN MARINO d 18 47 3 23 26 +11 41 TRI-CITY (USHL)
AIDAN MUIR LW 20 35 2 6 8 -17 20 WESTERN MICHIGAN (NCAA)
TYLER VESEL   C 21 35 6 12 18 +1 2 NEBRASKA-OMAHA (NCAA)
Europe
Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM team
ROMAN HORAK C 24 57 15 12 27 -9 32 CHEKHOV (KHL)
ZIYAT PAIGIN  F 20 37 9 18 27 +3 8 SOCHI (KHL)
  8 0 1 1 +2 2 KAZAN (KHL)
ANTTI TYRVAINEN  F 26 19 5 3 8 +3 22 FARJESTADS BK KARLSTAD (Sweden)
  13 5 1 6 +1 53 ILVES TAMPERE (finland)
BOGDAN YAKIMOV C 21 11 3 1 4 0 2 Nizhnekamsk (KHL)
2016 World Junior Hockey Championships
Name POS age GP G A P +/- PIM team
WILLIAM LAGESSON
D 19 7 2 1 3 +7 4 SWEDEN
Goaltenders
Name age GP w l T GAA SV% team
KEVEN BOUCHARD   19 18 7 6 3 3.17 .891 MONCTON WILDCATS (qmjHL)
  21 4 13 2 3.97 .872 baie-comeau (qmjHL)
LAURENT BROSSOIT 22 28 15 9 3 2.69 .919 bakersfield (AHL)
EETU LAURIKAINEN 22 13 5 7 0 3.32 .904 BAKERSFIELD (AHL)
8 3 5 0 2.16 .920 HPK HAMEENLINNA (FINLAND)
NIKLAS LUNDSTROM 23 3 1 0 2 3.85 .878 bakersfield (ahl)
13 8 3 0 2.92 .929 ELMIRA (ECHL)
4 1 1 0 2.75 .901 CHICAGO (AHL)
ZACH NAGELVOORT   21 11 5 2 1 2.99 .893 michigan (ncaa)
MIROSLAV SVOBODA   20 1 0 1 0 6.00 .750 TRINEC OCELARI (CZECH)
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