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‘Pretty good so far’: How new Canes defenseman Ethan Bear is fitting in with the team

·4 min read

It won’t be hard for Carolina Hurricanes fans to spot Ethan Bear on the ice.

Look for No. 25, the guy with the long, black locks of hair curling out from under the back of his helmet.

Bear will be the defenseman paired with ... Jaccob Slavin?

That’s where Bear has been early in the Canes’ preseason training camp. Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour and his staff decided to have Bear line up with Slavin, one of the NHL’s best D-men, while Bear learns the Canes system and the nuances of playing on the back end in that system in his first year with Carolina.

“It’s good,” Bear said to the media Thursday. “He’s dependable and reliable, so it allows me to do my job and play my game. It doesn’t get any easier for me than that.”

Brind’Amour on Friday called Slavin a “mentor, for sure” in helping Bear ease his way into things at camp.

“He’s looking good but probably anybody would look good playing next to ‘Slavo’ even though we’re not playing (games) yet,” Brind’Amour said to the media. “I think it’s a good match. We’ll try a bunch of different things but I think at the start you want to get comfortable and that’s a good partner there.”

Canes looking for depth

At 24, after being drafted by the Edmonton Oilers and playing for the Oilers, Bear suddenly found himself uprooted and traded. The Oilers sent him to Carolina on July 28 in a one-on-one deal for forward Warren Foegele.

“There was shock but I’m very happy where I’m at and it was a very pleasant surprise,” Bear said.

The Canes wanted more depth on defense. Bringing in Bear, a right-shot D-man, was a big part of that for Carolina, which also signed Ian Cole, Tony DeAngelo, Brendan Smith and Eric Gelinas as free agents.

Asked what Bear can add to the Canes, Brind’Amour said, “Everything.”

“I think there’s a lot of untapped potential here, offensively, getting involved in the rush and just playing the way we play. He can skate. I think it will be a good fit for a long time to come, hopefully.”

Fitting in

Slavin, one of the Canes’ alternate captains, said he will do all he can to help with the transition, the fit.

“It’s been pretty good so far,” Slavin said to the media Friday. “Off the ice we’ve connected pretty well. ... Talkative guy, super nice, easy going, easy to talk to, funny guy.

“On the ice he’s a smooth skater. Good offensive ability, good puck-moving ability. So, super excited for what that could be. We’ve just got to get the chemistry going.”

While Brind’Amour seemed more noncommital, Slavin sounded as if he expected to be paired with Bear for a while. That also would be a change from the past three seasons, when Slavin and Dougie Hamilton often formed the Canes’ top defensive pairing.

Hamilton roamed and shot. Slavin, while not bashful in being part of the offense, covered up for his partner defensively. It worked.

With Hamilton gone in free agency to the New Jersey Devils, some believed the offensive-minded DeAngelo might slide into Hamilton’s old spot next to Slavin. But Bear, listed at 5-11 and 197 pounds, is getting the first look in camp — a D-man who wore No. 74 with the Oilers playing with Slavin, No. 74 for the Canes.

‘No room for racism in hockey’

Hockey has presented constant challenges for Bear. Born in Regina, Saskatchewan, Bear was raised in the Ochapowace Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. Like other indigenous hockey players, including former Canes forward Micheal Ferland, he has encountered racist taunts and comments about his heritage while playing.

After the Oilers were eliminated from the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs by the Winnipeg Jets, swept in four games in the opening round, Bear used social media to address racist comments made on his Instagram account. One of Bear’s Instagram posts said: “There is no room for racism in hockey.”

“I’m here to stand up to this behavior, to these comments,” Bear said in a video posted on Twitter by the Oilers “I’m proud of where I come from. I’m proud to be from Ochapowace First Nation. And I’m not just doing this for myself. I’m doing this for all people of color. I’m doing this for the next generation, to help make change, to love one another, to support one another, to be kind to each other.”

The response was instant and supportive, easing some of the sting. The loss to the Jets ended what had been a tough season for Bear, who suffered a concussion when he was hit by an errant puck while sitting on the bench.

Now, Bear has a new team, a new city and new surroundings, as he moves on with his hockey career.

“I look at it as a new opportunity,” Bear said. “I get a fresh start and as a player, that’s huge. I just want to work hard, compete and make a good first impression.”

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