Ethan McClean is a freshman at Cottage Grove High School. His father David describes him as an “excellent student” who is part of the cross country and track teams. He is 15 years old, has a sister and a dog. By all accounts he is a normal teenager — but who has a very uncommon passion for a teenager in the Cottage Grove community playing ice hockey.
“We have a lot of family members where ice hockey is very big,” Ethan’s mother Nikki said. “He [David] and I didn’t personally grow up playing hockey ourselves. But in 2018, he [Ethan] did hockey where you just kind of get to try it. He did eight Saturday sessions. He really liked it, the coaches were asking if he’d want to be on a team. I told him if you do that you can’t really do fall soccer and winter basketball because the hockey season usually goes from October to March or sometimes till April.”
Ethan chose to continue playing soccer and basketball but, the following year, Nikki checked in on him again and he was in on hockey.
“I tried out for the team and had a blast. I fell in love with the sport,” Ethan said.
Teams in the organization Ethan participates in are comprised of 12-U and 14-U. Ethan might be one of the only teenagers within miles to play the sport. He was recently named team captain of the Eugene Junior Generals 14-U team by his peers. The team is co-ed and competes in Oregon and Washington.
There are typically three practices a week held in Eugene and then a couple games over the weekend.
Ethan’s dad is from Michigan. His mom’s family is from Wisconsin, where ice hockey reigns as one of the top sports in the Midwest.
Ethan is a huge Detroit Redwings fan. The Pacific Northwest didn’t have an NHL team until the Seattle Kraken were founded in 2021. Portland has the Winter Hawks, a junior ice hockey team. The University of Oregon has a club team. But the Pacific Northwest has never been considered the ice hockey capital of the United States.
“When I first started, I was pretty terrible, probably the worst on the team. It varies, there are people have been playing since they were two to where people just joined that year. There is a very big graph of skill levels,” Ethan said.
As captain, Ethan now finds himself leading some of the younger players on the team. But he and his family look back fondly of his first years in the sport.
“That first year, he learned a lot in terms of his skating abilities. Prior to that we go to the rink and just do an open skate. He knew how to skate enough to where he wasn’t hanging onto the wall, but nowhere near what he can do now, Nikki said. He also learned how to play the game.
“As a parent, at first the apprehension was that we would have to go to Eugene. But then I also thought, ‘What was the climate of that community going to be?’” Nikki said.
“But it was totally like a family, they took us in,” added Ethan.
The first year, the team told Ethan not to worry about buying anything. They had tubs of skates.
“The people who run the rink and the coaches were lovely. The parents — everyone really — just kind of welcomed us in and taught us the sport, and helped us with whatever we needed,” Nikki said.
Ethan was part of the Cottage Grove High School cross-country team this fall while playing hockey. It was his first year as part of that team.
“I did it but realized there is going to be sometimes where I’m not going to be able to go to hockey games,” Ethan admitted. “There is going to be times where I can’t go to cross country meets. But it worked out perfectly because I only missed a couple meets and still did hockey.”
With hockey being an out-of-the box sport in the Cottage Grove community, Ethan says his peers’ reactions to him playing have varied.
“There have been people who say, ‘Oh you play hockey? That’s cool!’ It’s very different here. The normal sports are football, basketball or baseball. A lot of people who don’t know what it is or haven’t experienced hockey go straight to the negative,” Ethan said. “‘Oh, that sounds like a stupid sport’ kind of makes me laugh. Those people haven’t seen the sport or experienced it. So, they don’t really have a right to say it’s stupid.”
Ethan hopes to play hockey for at least the remainder of his teenage year and hopes to see the sport grow in this region of the country. “Over in Wisconsin and Michigan they’ll play lacrosse and hockey. I think it would be cool to have some of that midwestern side come over to the Northwest,” Ethan said.