Ethan Bear's parents 'emotional' watching son's NHL debut

When Ethan Bear skated out for his first pre-game warm-up with the Edmonton Oilers Thursday night against the Nashville Predators, no one followed him onto the ice.

'We're proud of the fact that he can influence the youth and share his knowledge,' Bear's mother says

Nashville Predators' Roman Josi (59) trips up Edmonton Oilers' Ethan Bear (74) during second period NHL action at Rogers Place on Thursday. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

When Ethan Bear skated out for his first pre-game warm-up with the Edmonton Oilers Thursday night against the Nashville Predators, no one followed him onto the ice.

He smiled and skated anyway, the latest victim in a rite-of-passage prank done to many rookies before him.

His parents, up in the stands, were smiling too.

"They let him go first and he had one lap by himself, and that was the emotional part right there," his mother, Geraldine Bear, told CBC's Radio Active Friday. "Coming to realize that this is for real and he made it and achieved his dream."

The Oilers lost 4-2 in Bear's debut. He was on the ice for three of the four goals scored against them in more than 14 minutes of ice time. But head coach Todd McLellan said looking past the boxscore, he saw a lot of positives.

"I felt better and better about putting him on the ice as the game went along," he said.

After the game, Geraldine Bear said Ethan was feeling good about where he was at. "He was happy," she said. "It was a lot of emotions for all of us."

"For me, it was just very hard to believe," said Ethan's father, Lloyd Bear. "Very emotional."

First Nations inspiration

Originally from the Ochapowace First Nation in southeastern Saskatchewan, Bear is one of six players of Indigenous descent on an NHL roster.

He realizes that achieving his dream to play in the NHL carries with it the hopes of an entire generation of First Nations kids who look up to him.

"We're proud of the fact that he can influence the youth and share his knowledge and his experience," Geraldine said. "[We want him to show] that if you work hard at something, set your mind to something, stay focused and disciplined, good things will come."

But what Geraldine and Lloyd are most proud of his the way Ethan presents himself to whomever he meets.

"He gets along with everyone. It doesn't matter if they're Indigenous or non-Indigenous," Geraldine said. "He has such good character and personality ... We're really proud."

Lloyd coached Ethan and his older brother, Everett Bear, when they were younger. Everett also played defence, and Lloyd said he was a key part of pushing Ethan to become the hockey player he is today.

"[Ethan] was on the ice all the time," Lloyd said. "As much as he could be."

'We'll see about Monday'

Both Lloyd and Geraldine had just gotten back from travelling to Arizona to watch their son play for the Bakersfield Condors, the Oilers' AHL affiliate. They try to go see Ethan play every four to six weeks, even when he was with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL.

When they got home from their last trip, they found out that their son was called up to the big club.

So, they prepared to travel west.

They caught Thursday's game, and they'll be in town to watch Saturday's game against the New York Rangers. As for Monday's game against Arizona, they still have to check in with their lives back in Saskatchewan.

"Maybe if I can phone in to my work, they'll let me stay," Lloyd said, laughing. "We'll see about Monday."

Bear was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 5th round in 2015 NHL Entry Draft. (Andy Devlin, Oilers Entertainment Group)