Bear, who is from the Ochapowace First Nation in southeastern Saskatchewan, was called up from the team’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors, based in California, on Tuesday.
Before the game, members of the Logan Alexis Singers group gathered in the middle of the Tsą tsą ke k’e (Iron Foot Place) mosaic in Ford Hall to perform a song for Bear.
Hundreds of fans gathered to watch as Rob Alexis, Don Kootenay, Howard Mustus Jr., Eugene Alexis, Allan Susan, Evan Chamakese and Rocky Morin drummed and sang the Connor McDavid Song, and Let’s go Oilers, which pays tribute to the team.
“It’s rare,” Rob Alexis said in response to how often they perform at Oilers games. “Only at playoffs and it was special for Ethan’s debut. We had to come perform for that.”
Several videos of the performance were posted to Facebook, including one by Jeannie Paul that has been viewed over 40,000 times since it was posted Thursday night.
“I didn’t realize my video would be such a hit, but I’m excited to help bring awareness to the support Ethan Bear has in Treaty Six, and from all Indigenous families across the country,” Paul, who is from Alexander First Nation, said. “Ahkameyimowin, Ethan Bear!”
Ochapowace First Nation Chief Margaret Bear was at Rogers Place — along with the defenceman’s parents and 20 to 25 others from the First Nation — to see the Oilers play the Predators.
The chief, who is not related to Bear, said many more supporters from First Nations across Saskatchewan plan to go to Saturday’s home game against the New York Rangers.
She said everyone in the community — youth, elders, leaders and families — is proud of Bear, adding he is not only a source of pride for her people but has become a role model.
The 20-year-old Bear is one of about half a dozen players on NHL rosters who is of Indigenous descent. The Oilers chose him in the fifth round of the 2015 entry draft.
“The nerves were right up there, the excitement level was up there, to play a very good team like Nashville was a good experience,” Bear said after the game. “I just gotta get my the feet moving a little more, keep moving the puck, but I thought it felt really good.”
He said the biggest difference at the NHL level was the speed in which decisions are made. “Moving it quick. Everyone’s in their right position, the smarts and skills are a big factor. Seeing how fast they think was a good experience to see.”
Bear finished the game with a -3 rating but McLellan was impressed by the rookie’s play.
“I thought he looked confident, he moved pucks well, he zipped pucks up,” McLellan said. “The game sheet is not going to give you a true story when it comes to his game. It shows -3, but he was a victim of circumstance.”
“I felt better and better about putting him on the ice as the game went on. It’s a good start for him.”
The five-foot-11-inch, 209-pound Bear has six goals and 10 assists in 34 games with Bakersfield in his rookie professional season.
Bear was called up because Oilers defenceman Adam Larsson is on leave attending his father’s funeral in Sweden. Larsson will also miss Saturday’s game.
— With files from Reid Wilkins, Brenden Ullrich and Scott Johnston, 630 CHED, and the Canadian Press