Speed has been a constant theme throughout the first 17 years of Ethan Wolthers’ life, so why should a college hockey commitment be any different?
The Anaheim Jr. Ducks 16U AAA forward became the seventh 2001 birth year who has played for the club, and the 17thplayer overall in the past five seasons, to make an NCAA Division I commitment when he announced he will play at UMass-Amherst recently. He will join Jr. Ducks teammate Jonathan Panisa, who committed to the Minutemen last month, in Amherst, Mass., in a couple of seasons.
Wolthers jumped much higher on recruiters’ radar with a strong summer, specifically at the USA Hockey Select 17 camp in Amherst, N.Y., at the end of June. He put up six points in five games and made the camp’s all-star game, gaining consideration for Team USA’s entry in the recently completed Hlinka Gretzky Cup. Jr. Ducks teammate Josh Groll, who committed to Michigan last fall, did make Team USA.
“Things are coming together for me,” Wolthers said. “I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to shine on the 16s, but we had so many great players it was hard to showcase my abilities at times. I had to wait for my opportunities, and the Select 17s was my opportunity to shine, and I caught some coaches’ attention.”
Shortly after that, Wolthers’ next step became clearer when he made the Cedar Rapids Roughriders after another strong summer showing at the USHL team’s 30-man camp.
“I knew they weren’t going to cut a lot of people from that group, and I had a really, really good camp,” he added.
That Wolthers would thrive in more individually driven competitions should come as no surprise, however. This, after all, is a young man who was a multiple-time world and national champion in BMX by the time he was 9 years old. Having the focus and confidence to be at his best when much is on the line is an attribute he’s been honing since he was a toddler trying to compete with his older brother Nicholas on the bikes.
The results came and still are coming because of his preparation.
“BMX is an individual sport. I’d train three or four months for one race,” Wolthers recalled. “It’s all on you. You have to rely on your skills and your training.
“Hockey is a team sport until you have to beat out someone else for a spot on a team. My experiences growing up taught me how to handle those situations well.”
Indeed they have. Perhaps most remarkable about Wolthers’ ascent in hockey is that he’s only been skating for six years, and he has played just two seasons of AAA hockey after a couple at AA and one playing high school hockey and another playing in-house.
After having 12 points in 24 Tier 1 Elite Hockey League games and 11 in 10 CAHA games for the Jr. Ducks’ 15U AAA team last season, he erupted for 29 in 36 Tier 1 games and 21 points in 13 CAHA games this season with a 16s team that won a bronze medal at April’s USA Hockey Youth Nationals.
His progression was heavily influenced by the coaching received with the Jr. Ducks, first with Darryl Tiveron at 15s and then Alex Kim, Craig Johnson and Scott Niedermayer at 16s.
“I really benefited from playing for the Jr. Ducks,” Wolthers said. “I found my true skill set and how to use my skills.
“I’m a small guy (5-foot-7, 148 pounds), and it’s been hard at times. I learned how to get creative, when to avoid getting hit, when to take a hit to make a play. I couldn’t ask for more from this staff – all of them are really good coaches, and they pushed me to my limits.”
Wolthers’ first attribute that jumped out to Johnson, who was a 14-year pro hockey player and is an NHL skating coach, was the forward’s speed.
“Hockey’s become such a speed game now, and Ethan has a different gear than most everyone else,” the Jr. Ducks’ director of coaches said. “He’s really fast, and that skating ability is what makes him successful.
“As he gets stronger and bigger, he’ll get even faster. The other thing about Ethan is he is a hard worker and he constantly wants to get better, which is an attribute all successful players have.”
Wolthers’ humility and willingness to learn also stood out to Kim, who emphasized that Wolthers stuck with a process that some players might not have.
“He played a year at 15s, he wasn’t in a rush,” the Jr. Ducks’ director of player personnel said. “Darryl did a nice job helping prepare him for 16s. He’s a good coach, a very patient coach, and he was the right one for Ethan at the right time.”
Kim added that one would never know Wolthers enjoyed all of the early life successes that he did.
“He’s a very nice, respectful young man,” Kim said. “He wants to be coached, he always wants to get better. And he’s always in a good mood.
“He’s a great athlete, and you see that on the ice with his speed and coordination.”
The influx of summer attention didn’t phase Wolthers, but he did pause when he visited the UMass campus.
“I liked it a lot, it felt like a good fit,” he said. “It’s funny. This is what I wanted but I didn’t really see the path how to get to it until this season with the 16s.
“I will always be grateful for that.”