By Faith Harris
HERSHEY, PA — Nearly a half hour after the Hershey Bears defeated the Lehigh Valley Phantoms 4-3 in a shootout Saturday, AHL rookie sensation Ethen Frank walked into the team’s interview room, wearing a wheat colored trenchcoat over a black suit and tie. That night, Frank extended his point-scoring streak to three after assisting on a Mike Sgarbossa goal in the third period. Frank sat down in a fold-out Hershey Bears’ 2011 All-Star Game chair across from me, as I conducted my first interview during my first credentialed professional hockey game.
At that moment, both of us were new to situations like this, but both of us seemed to know we would be doing more of it in the future.
Signed to an AHL-only deal, Frank had been in the news lately as a prospect many teams were interested in signing for the 2023-24 season. Going into the chat, I wanted to know more about the potential deals he might have had coming, but Frank proved to be elusive on contract talks, only saying “I just let my game speak for myself.” He did say though, that his dream would be to eventually sign an NHL contract.
The following week, hidden within the chaos of the trade deadline, was the March 1st date, where NHL teams were permitted to begin handing out contracts for the next season. Before this date, any contract signed would only be applicable to the current season. Frank would have his NHL dream fulfilled when the Capitals signed him to a one year, two-way contract worth $775k at the NHL level and $205k in the AHL.
The deal gives Frank an opportunity to make the Capitals out of Training Camp during the 2023-24 season.
Growing up in the rural suburbs of Papillion, Nebraska, Frank could end up being the fifth hockey player from the state to ever play in the NHL. Frank played junior hockey for his local team, the Omaha Lancers, and averaged over two points a game for the team.
During his final year of high school, he joined rival team the Lincoln Stars, playing up a division against opponents two and three years older. Frank got the opportunity that winter to play for the United States on the 2016 World Junior A. Challenge U19 team. He scored the game-winning goal in the tournament against Canada East to help the team secure the championship.
Frank ended his high school career by accepting a scholarship to play D1 hockey at Western Michigan University.
Frank played NCAA hockey at Western Michigan for five seasons, including a COVID year that wasn’t officially counted by the league. In 2022, during his senior year, he scored 26 goals, leading all NCAA players and earning Second Team All-NCHC Honors in the league. On April 11th, the Hershey Bears signed Frank to an amateur tryout for the remainder of the 2021-22 season — he played five games — and to an AHL contract for the following year.
So far this year, Frank is having a rookie season to remember as he’s formed a powerful first line with Mike Vecchione and Mike Sgarbossa. Frank currently leads Hershey in scoring with 24 goals, and is third in points, with 41. He leads all AHL rookies in goals as of March 2.
✨ᵉᵗʰᵉⁿ ᶠʳᵃⁿᵏ ˡᵉᵃᵈˢ ᵃˡˡ ᴬᴴᴸ ʳᵒᵒᵏᶦᵉˢ ᶦⁿ ᵍᵒᵃˡˢ✨
🍏 Day pic.twitter.com/svKfaDnOsl
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) January 29, 2023
In January, Frank became only the fourth Bear ever to be named AHL Rookie of the Month, joining Marc Denis (March 1998), Oskar Osala (November 2008), and Riley Barber (February 2016). Denis, Osala, and Barber all went on to play games in the NHL. Shortly after, Frank was selected by the AHL to represent the Bears at the AHL All-Star Game along with Vecchione.
Frank’s performance in the Fastest Skater event that weekend put him even further on the map. He skated his lap in just 12.915 seconds, the fastest time recorded by a skater in AHL or NHL history. Frank was mentioned in Elliotte Friedman’s 32 Thoughts just days later as a player to watch for an NHL contract.
Ethen Frank won the AHL’s fastest skater competition with sub-13 seconds 👀 pic.twitter.com/6hO1H2WiYb
— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) February 7, 2023
During our interview, Frank didn’t just share the highlights from his first year with the Bears. He went deeper, discussing the full experience of transitioning to playing professional hockey and the journey he’s taken to get here today.
Q: What’s been clicking for you so well this year in Hershey?
Ethen Frank: Probably the support from the other guys in the locker room. They’ve been really great in showing the younger guys in how pro hockey is. Playing college last year, you only play like 35 games so its tough to adjust to the 70 game schedule. They’ve been great to me and all the other young guys and you give them a lot of credit for that.
Q: For the fans who aren’t familiar with your playing style, who do you imitate your game after, if anyone?
Ethen Frank: I don’t know if I really try to imitate my game after anybody specific. I watch a lot of videos on Mackinnon and McDavid, just how fast and explosive they are. I try to emulate that a little bit but obviously every player is different, so its kind of tough to pick just one guy.
Q: Going back in time, what was it like growing up and playing a sport like hockey in Nebraska?
Ethen Frank: There wasn’t a lot in Nebraska. In the three years I played there, I think we played four home weekends. We were always on the road in Chicago, St Louis, Minnesota, Michigan. Definitely not a lot of competition in the Midwest but we were always making road trips out there.
Q: What players did you look up to when growing up and watching hockey?
Ethen Frank: Ovechkin and Crosby. I had a fathead of both of those guys in my room and a bunch of little action figures and posters and stuff like that. When they first came into the league they were both powerhouses and are still just leading the way for their respective programs.
Q: Of course, I have to ask: Did you like Ovechkin more?
Ethen Frank: Yeah, I honestly did! he went tongues out like I do and he had like the tinted visor and everything. It was cool to have that one.
Q: You had some wheels in the Fastest Skater event at AHL All-Star Skills Competition. How did you end up participating in that? There were rumors you were supposed to be in Hardest Shot.
Ethen Frank: They kind of just sent us a little survey and you just numbered each event 1-7, which one you’d like to do the most and which one you’d like to do the least. I always get nervous because I see guys miss every shot they take and I can skate fast so I’ll just do that one.
Q: Your skating time at the event put you on the map for a lot of people. What was that attention like for you?
Ethen Frank: It was cool, I got a lot of respect and a lot of compliments for it, which is nice because I’ve put a lot of work in obviously over the years. But it’s just kind of another thing, its just another day for me. I can’t look too much into it because that doesn’t help the Hershey Bears win. I got to skate faster in our games for that to actually mean something. But you know its cool, I had family and friends out there so it was nice for them to see that.
Q: How did you learn to skate that fast?
Ethen Frank: I guess just natural. I grew up roller skating with my dad, I didn’t start ice skating until I was 9 or 10 but I played roller hockey a lot so I’ll give some credit to that.
Q: Did you skate with Wendy Marco at all? (Wendy Marco is the owner of Cold Rush Hockey, a hockey academy located in Northern Virginia. She is a skating coach for the Capitals and has worked with numerous Capitals players over the last few years, such as Lars Eller and John Carlson, to improve on their skating ability and technique.)
Ethen Frank: Yeah she comes down here every once in a while! I do some things with her but she’s just not down here all the time…once or twice a month.
Q: Can you speak on her coaching ability?
Ethen Frank: She’s got a great mind for the mechanics of skating. It’s crazy how she’ll tell you to counter rotate your body and it doesn’t make sense as she’s talking about it, but you do it and it makes sense, you feel how it clicks. She’s got a great mind for skating and the mechanics of it for sure.
Q: What are your hopes for the future?
Ethen Frank: Definitely finish in one of the top two teams for our conference so we don’t have to play in the best of three series for the playoffs, but just finish strong with consistency. Our line is depended on for offense and strong defensive play and I think we just need to keep rolling with that and it’ll help the team win.
Q: What would you attribute earning your first line spot to?
Ethen Frank: I’ll give a little bit to my age, obviously I’m older than those guys (25) so I’ve kind of been through a little bit more, but they’re still great players obviously. I think I came into this season with something to prove. You know, not a lot of people know about me. I think, out of last year out of college I was kind of hoping for something better but I’m definitely happy with what ended up happening because obviously this year is going pretty good for us.
Headline photo: Faith Harris/RMNB
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