Photo by Rena Laverty
Even though he grew up in sunny Florida, there was only one sport that interested Ethan Straky.
He had some “northern roots” that helped fuel his passion for hockey.
“I started playing hockey when I was 7 years old,” he said. “I have family in the Detroit area and across the river in Windsor [Ontario]. I had members of my family that played hockey. I grew up in Florida, but they really rubbed off on me.”
This includes his dad Craig, who helped sparked his interest in the game.
“My dad introduced me to the sport, and he was the one that got me started in a rec league. That alone made me even more fall in love with the game,” said Straky. “I really have a passion for it. I found it early, loved it and had fun with hockey.
“I grew up going to Lightning and Panthers games. When we came up north to visit family, we would go to Red Wings games. Detroit was definitely my favorite team and Nicklas Lidström was one of my favorite players.”
Despite options of spending time at the beach, playing hockey was something that Straky had the most passion for.
“Growing up in Florida, it was definitely a different start, but the sport is definitely growing,” he said. “I had really good coaches that taught me to have fun. They made me want to learn and play the game the right way.”
The 5-foot-11, 163-pounder actually ended up moving back to the blue line after starting his career at forward. He realized there were some advantages to having experience at both.
“I actually played forward until my first year in bantam, so I’ve only been playing defense for three years,” explained Straky. “I made the switch because my coach in Florida actually made the suggestion.
Photo by Rena Laverty
“I could see the play develop in front of me and I didn’t have that same experience at forward. Being a defenseman, you have time to survey the ice and use your feet and eyes more. The biggest thing is that you can use your skating to your advantage.”
Straky and his parents, Craig and Pam, left Ormond Beach, Florida, and moved to the Detroit area so he could continue to pursue his passion of hockey. It all started with a tryout.
“We decided to try out for the Little Caesars team at Joe Louis Arena,” he explained. “My dad had heard about it and we figured that we would get a feel of what to expect if we were to move up north. I really didn’t expect anything but then, I was offered a spot on the team right after tryouts. We made a decision as a family that it was what I wanted to do.
Photo by Rena Laverty
“My parents have played a big part of all of this. They packed up everything and moved up here with me. They are my biggest supporters. They are always positive, even if I have had a bad game. They always tell me to play hard and have fun. That is a big reason why I love this game.”
Flash forward a few years and Straky has finished his first year with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. It was an interesting transition for him to start, but he quickly figured out what he needed to do.
“It was a big jump,” he said. “The speed of the game, everyone was a couple steps quicker. It really took me five to 10 games to get my bearings and start to develop some confidence. I know I need to keep growing. That is one of the biggest lessons in hockey.”
In addition, he credits associate head coach Dan Hinote as another reason for his success on the ice.
“He has been invaluable to me,” said Straky, who finished with four goals and 19 points in 43 games. “He is an unbelievable coach whether it is the detailed practices, or how to pin guys in the corner, or going upstairs and showing video. It’s all about the big picture. I have learned so much from him.
“It’s all about consistency especially when you move up a level. That is the biggest thing. You need to bring it every game and you cannot take a game off. I’m learning to be the best that I can be.”
He finished his first season with the NTDP with plenty of memories but there is one game that really sticks out to him from the Under-17 squad’s second international tournament in Kazan, Russia.
“It was such a thrilling event, especially the final game in Kazan,” recalled Straky. “Our emotions were running really high. Losing in the finals of the U17 World Challenge to Russia was really weighing on us. I think we took all our emotions out in this one game.
“It was definitely the coolest moment to beat Russia in Russia [a 6-0 win on Dec. 15]. To be on the blue line after the game and look at my teammates with the crest, it was a feeling like no other. It was such a special moment for us.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.