Saskatchewan

Ochapowace First Nation fans to pack Pats game to cheer on homegrown Thunderbirds star

Tonight, hockey fans in Regina will cheer on the Pats in the first game of the Western Hockey League Championship series against the Seattle Thunderbirds. But among them, expect to see plenty of Bear jerseys.

Seattle Thunderbirds defenceman Ethan Bear hails from the Ochapowace First Nation

Bear, seen here with the puck, is a star with the Seattle Thunderbirds and grew up on Saskatchewan's Ochapowace First Nation. (Seattle Thunderbirds)

Friday night, hockey fans in Regina will cheer on the Pats in the first game of the Western Hockey League championship series against the Seattle Thunderbirds.

There will be a First Nations feel in the crowd.- Evan Taypotat, Ethan Bear's uncle

Among those hometown fans, however, expect a sea of blue and green Bear jerseys.

Ethan Bear is a star defenceman for Seattle, and finds his roots on the Ochapowace First Nation, about 160 kilometres east of Regina.   

"I really believe Ethan has the biggest fan club in the entire WHL," said proud uncle Evan Taypotat. "Last year, when we went to Brandon in the final, there were probably 500 of his fans there.

"The buzz is here. It's game day," said Taypotat.

Ethan Bear was named the WHL's top defenceman this year, and he is considered to be a top prospect for the NHL's Edmonton Oilers.

Evan Taypotat, uncle of Ethan Bear, says the star defenceman for the Seattle Thunderbirds has 'the biggest fan club in the entire WHL' at the Ochapowace First Nation. (CBC)

Early signs Bear was a special player

Taypotat recalled that early on, when Ethan was young and playing hockey on the First Nation, there were signs that he had a rare talent on the ice.

"If they let him, he could probably score 25 goals a game but his dad, Lloyd, was the coach and his dad always held him back a little bit."

Even with talk that Bear could soon be a major force in the NHL, combining an ability to move the puck with an intense physical style of play, Taypotat said that his nephew remains a role model for young players and will host a hockey camp at home this summer.

"He's made them realize that they can dream."

Ethan Bear is a highly touted Edmonton Oilers prospect, but his uncle says he is a humble young man and a role model for youth on the First Nation. (Andy Devlin, Oilers Entertainment Group)

Injury may keep Bear on the bench

The question is, will he play? Bear injured his hand blocking a shot in the earlier playoff series against the Kelowna Rockets. There is talk he could miss the remainder of the season.

No matter, said Taypotat.  

"There will be a First Nations feel in the crowd."

Immediate family and dozens of others from the Ochapowace First Nation will be there — and then there's Bear's fan club, Taypotat said.

"There are probably about a thousand other First Nations fans in Regina looking for tickets right now and we are trying to help them as best that we can."

Fans of Ethan Bear are flocking to the Western Hockey League Championship series between the Regina Pats and the Seattle Thunderbirds. (CBC)

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