Ethan Pearson, just the beginning

Stills of Ethan Pearson, the Goalie for the Princeton Tigers. (Courtesy of the NHL)

Ethan Pearson always feels driven by a challenge.

The Fredericton-born athlete is now a student at Princeton University in New Jersey, where he’s a starting goaltender for the Princeton Tigers men’s ice hockey team. 

Playing for an Ivy League school may seem daunting, but Pearson’s love for the spotlight keeps him going.

It’s earned him a nomination for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, named for a former Princeton Tiger player who showed great sportsmanship, skill and love for the game. 

He’s the second New Brunswick player ever nominated, joining Shediac’s Scott Pellerin, who won the award with the University of Maine in 1992.

“It’s a huge honour. It’s good to see that reward and, for lack of better words, respect,” said Pearson.

Pearson left Fredericton at the age of 15 to play at Newbridge Academy, a private school in Dartmouth, N.S. because he was unsure of the league in which he wanted to play: the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) or the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). 

He later travelled across the border to play for Mount Saint Charles Academy in Rhode Island to gain more exposure to American athletic programs. 

It worked in his favour.

He received offers from Harvard University, Cornell University and the University of Massachusetts, although he chose Princeton for its athletics program and its education something he wasn’t too keen on at first. 

“I didn’t know if I wanted to go to Princeton or not, honestly, because I wasn’t too sure if I wanted to go to a hard school or if I wanted to just focus on hockey completely,” said Pearson.

“But, I’m definitely happy with my decision right now.”

In his first year, Pearson only started three games and said he was “insanely nervous” during play because it was a big step from what he was comfortable with. Now in his second year with more confidence, he’s focused on the play.

In novice hockey, it’s common for players to rotate through all positions, but Pearson stayed between the goal posts. 

“I liked that feeling of being very important to the team. I love having that feeling. You know, a little bit of pressure,” he said. 

He follows the NHL closely and takes inspiration from goalies like Stanley Cup champion Jake Allen, who also hails from Fredericton, of the Montreal Canadiens.

Pearson’s favourite moment playing for Princeton, so far, was when he earned back-to-back shutouts in his second and third games this year. 

“I felt very important in those moments, which is what everyone wants. Knowing I helped my teammates to two big wins it was a good feeling,” he said. 

The fans were part of the celebration, too, a forgotten experience in recent years, according to Pearson. 

“Last year sucked because COVID was still around,” he said. 

Since Princeton Hockey’s 100th anniversary in early January, Pearson said spectators have continuously filled the stands to make every home game wild.

He also remembers playing away games at Cornell University’s Lynah Rink, which he says is the loudest building he’s ever been in.

But that doesn’t bother Pearson. 

“I loved it. That’s what hockey is all about: the passion of the fans,” he said. 

When he’s not on the ice, Pearson is busy with classes and finding the time to complete assignments. As a psychology major, he said the work is manageable, but “it’s as hard as I make it.” 

“It’s still very challenging, but the standards are very high,” he said. 

Away from class, Pearson said Princeton’s social scene is inviting, with clubs, parties and hang-out areas all around campus. 

“It’s very easy to make friends,” he said.

Pearson admits the last few years have been tough; he couldn’t get much public exposure, couldn’t play often and couldn’t get drafted — all due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

He hopes his nomination for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award can help him reach the next level. Because even at a D1 school as the first-string goalie, he’s hungry for more. 

“The NHL’s in my sights. This is just the beginning and I’m working my hardest to go further,” said Pearson.