Whitcomb commits to Mavericks
Ethan Whitcomb’s future is set.
The 17-year-old St. Catharines native has committed to play hockey at the University of Nebraska at Omaha on a full scholarship for the 2023/24 season.
“Obviously, my goal is to make it to the NHL so anything to help me get there — it’s been a dream of mine to play in the OHL — but when this opportunity came out there was really no way I could say no to it,” Whitcomb said. “It’s a top school in a top league in college hockey.”
Whitcomb, who is still undecided on a major, is appreciative of the opportunity.
“It’s a great feeling. Anyone would love to have their university paid for. I’m honoured and I’m grateful.”
Whitcomb, who was selected in the eighth round of the 2021 Ontario Hockey League draft by the Guelph Storm, spent last season with the Thorold Blackhawks of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League where he caught the eye of the Mavericks.
“They had been contacting me for quite a while,” Whitcomb said. “I like the coaching staff and I had an opportunity to go down and train with the USHL (United States Hockey League) team in Omaha. I thought it would be great to go down and that they would come and see me. Unfortunately they were unable to but the coach of the Lancers had some nice things to say about me.”
Mavericks assistant coach Dave Noel-Bernier scouted Whitcomb and came away impressed.
“I was in Ontario and had a bit of an inside track on Ethan and watched him play and I liked what I saw,” said Noel-Bernier, who was an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings before joining the Mavs. “I liked his size and hockey sense. I thought he was thinking the game a couple of steps ahead of his teammates. I also liked his compete level. He played hard almost every shift and that was very attractive.
“For a big kid, he skated really well. He’s got a knack to score, he likes to score, he likes to be on the ice when the game in on the line.”
Noel-Bernier said Whitcomb also checked all the boxes off the ice and were particularly impressed with him on a Zoom call.
“The call sold us as a program,” Noel-Bernier said. “We got to know him and his family. We liked our conversation with him and liked what he wants to do with hockey. He’s very serious about it and he’s motivated.”
Noel-Bernier said character is a huge factor when it comes to recruiting.
“We spend a lot of time getting to know the kid and know the family. For our program, it’s critical. Ethan has a really good plan and has great support. To us, he made our decision is a lot easier.”
Whitcomb is eager to see how his talent stacks up at the next level.
“I’m going to be playing with players older than me so I just have to work hard, train. The players are going to be a lot faster and stronger so I have to be prepared for what’s coming.”
Whitcomb credited his time with the Blackhawks last season for helping him develop when many players in his position were unable to play at all. The Blackhawks played about 20 non-contact scrimmages versus other GOJHL teams.
“This was a weird year so any ice time we got was great. Those games definitely helped because it was my first step playing with older, bigger guys. It was good to see how much I’ve grown from last season.”
Hawks owner/coach Scott Barnes saw the potential in Whitcomb from the start.
“He made the most out of the limited games we had,” Barnes said. “I think if we would have had a full season he would have tore this league up pretty good.
“Our goal with him coming in, I was really hoping he would get a D1 commit this year.”
Barnes loves Whitcomb’s skill set.
“If the draft was done a year later, I don’t know how he wouldn’t be a top two rounder,” Barnes said. “He’s got great size to go with elite skill. We played him at centre and he really thrived there. His two-way game really took off with us.
“Not often you get a 6-foot-3, skilled centre who can skate. He’s got a lot going for him.”
Whitcomb was selected by Muskegon in the 2021 USHL draft and hopes to make the jump this fall.
“I’m extremely excited. It’s a really good junior league with lots of good players and good talent. I’m just hoping to do my best,” he said.
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