PARKSVILLE — For the first time in the hockey club’s history a player from Australia is playing for the Oceanside Generals.
Ethan Hawes is among those patrolling the blueline for the team this year after growing up in Newcastle, along Australia’s east coast about two hours north of Sydney.
He began to play the sport after he moved with his family to Washington State at the age of eight due to his father’s work placement.
“When I moved, my parents wanted to get me into something that I wouldn’t really do a lot of and I was five minutes away from an ice rink. I had done some ice skating back home but not hockey. So I tried hockey for a week and ended up falling in love with it.”
Hawes’ hockey journey has taken him to many different places, including North Dakota, New Hampshire and Minnesota.
“I learned that if you’re trying to take the sport seriously, unfortunately at my age you had to move away because there was not a lot of growth in Australia back then, it’s got a lot better now.
Ice time is typically at a premium in many Australian communities, with serious local players often sharing time on a single ice sheet with kids birthday parties.
“There’s probably nine rinks total in the country and only three ice rinks with glass. The other rinks are used more for figure skating but luckly in my hometown, we have one of the best rinks in the country.”
This past summer Ethan returned home with the 20 year-old suiting up for a men’s pro league, the Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL), and his hometown Newcastle Northstars.
He collected 14 points in 16 games and was named the league’s rookie of the year.
“Really that was my NHL, as it was for many other kids my age. Growing up I really didn’t know any other hockey except for the AIHL so I grew up idolizing those guys and wanting to be one of those guys. You know kinda day dream about being in that spot one day.”
The trip home was not only a chance to get some high level hockey under his belt, but see how the league had grown over the years.
Online streaming and more awareness across the country have helped it grow immensely over the last decade.
Fans of teams are passionate and relatively knowledgeable, particularly compared to some Canadian fans of traditional Australian sports of cricket.
Rapid growth of the sport was easy to spot for Hawes.
“I think the sky is the limit honestly, especially in this past season in the AIHL the amount of support we got from around the country was incredible the media coverage was overwhelming. So many kids and adults learning about the sport .
His connection to Parksville came by chance. A coach in Newcastle was originally from Vancouver Island and was able to facilitate chats with Generals head coach Dan Lemmon.
After wrapping playoffs with Newcastle on Sept. 4, where the Northstars lost in the league final to Canberra by a 3-2 score, Hawes again packed his bags to head north.
The smooth skating defenceman made his Generals debut on Sept., 16 and so far has collected four assists.
“He’s a mature kid with good offensive skill, good first pass and he competes really hard,” Lemmons said. “He’s a guy that is going to log key minutes in all areas of the game for us and is a leader on and off the ice.”
The Oceanside Generals return to the ice on Wednesday, Oct. 5 in Port Alberni, followed by back-to-back home games beginning Friday, Oct. 7 at the Howie Meeker Arena.
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