The NHL released a statement in response to the hateful, racially focused comments directed toward defenseman Ethan Bear in the wake of the Edmonton Oilers’ elimination from the first round of Stanley Cup Playoffs on Monday.
“Ethan Bear represents both our game and his Indigenous heritage with dignity and pride,” the NHL said. “He, and all people from Indigenous backgrounds, deserve to feel empowered and respected on and off the ice. We stand with Ethan and his family in denouncing hate.”
The 23-year-old, from the Ochapowace Nation in southern Saskatchewan, received the messages after a 4-3 triple-overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets in Game 4, a loss that ended the Oilers’ season.
Bear committed a turnover that led to the goal by Jets forward Mark Scheifele at 6:01 of the third period that tied the game 3-3. Winnipeg forward Kyle Connor scored at 6:52 of the third overtime.
Bear’s girlfriend, Lenasia Ned, posted on social media that the defenseman received racist comments in the wake of the game.
“As you know, I have been subject to racist behavior on social media,” Bear said in a video statement. “I know this doesn’t represent all Oilers fans or hockey fans and I greatly appreciate your support and your love during this time.
“I’m here to stand up to this behavior, to these comments. I’m proud of where I come from. I’m proud to be from Ochapowace First Nation. 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. There’s no place for racism in our communities, in sports or our workplace. I call on all of us to make change and end racism.”
Oilers captain Connor McDavid expressed support for Bear in a statement on social media.
“The racist comments directed at our teammate and brother Ethan Bear are not acceptable,” McDavid said. “The individuals who spew this type of hate should think twice about their behavior. Ethan is such a positive role model for the Ochapowace First Nation and does so much work in our local Edmonton community.
“On behalf of all my Oiler teammates, we stand strong behind Ethan and against racism of any kind.”
Edmonton general manager Ken Holland also addressed the situation in his season-ending availability Wednesday.
“Ethan is an unbelievable young man, he’s a tremendous role model to all young athletes, especially in the Indigenous community,” Holland said. “He’s involved, gives time to the community. He’s popular in the locker room.
“I feel sick for him and disappointed for him that he would get this kind of abuse. It’s unacceptable, and obviously we all have to continue to work at every level. I think we’ve made strides, but there is a long way to go to create a world where everybody feels safe and they don’t get this kind of racism and abuse.”
NHL.com independent correspondent Derek Van Diest contributed to this report.