An injury, at the best of times, can be frustrating for any athlete.
One that comes with little reassurance or answers can play tricks on the mind.
That’s precisely where Red Deer Rebels goalie Ethan Anders found himself during the 2019-20 WHL season, and both mentally and physically it took a toll on the 19-year-old.
Anders suffered a lower-body injury in late November and wasn’t able to return until after the Christmas break, on Jan. 4. An MRI didn’t reveal any damage, but mentally, he had a hard time overcoming the setback.
“It got dragged out a lot. It was frustrating. I got an MRI on it and nothing really showed up. I was going through rehab and it never got better,” said Anders, who is back home in Pilot Butte, Sask. passing the time until hockey comes back, like the rest of us.
“It was frustrating that it never got good enough to play again. It’s good now, it was a frustrating time and I was missing the team… the break was alright, just to mentally reset and come back better.”
He missed road trips, which tend to provide a valuable bonding moment for most WHL players, but mostly he missed being out on the ice, competing with his teammates, in practice or games.
Anders never really did get back on track after his return, with a roller coaster of a year right until the end. He finished with only 35 games played, an inflated 0.888 save percentage and 3.76 goals against average. Both those numbers were well above his career average, which was a 3.09 GAA and 0.906 SV %.
“I was hoping for a stronger year of course, but it was something to learn from and build on,” he said.
“There were times when I would go play a couple good games and then I would show up for a game and I wouldn’t be able to play the way I did before. Kinda let the guys down a bit. The consistency is just something I have to work on this offseason, not to get too high or too low.”
With all that went wrong, Anders is well prepared to turn it around heading into his final WHL season. He’s been working on his flexibility and mobility at home, doing what he can do to prepare for next year.
Even if he doesn’t totally know what the rest of his summer of training will look like, the teen is taking a bit of solace in the fact that the team in front of him will be pretty much the same come opening night next year.
“I think that chemistry is going to really help us early on in the year, because we all know how we play and what we like to do,” he said.
“It’s going to help us at the start of the year when other teams might not be as strong.”
It will be the last chance for Anders, who turns 20 on Sept. 26, to prove he belongs as a starting goalie in the WHL. While that may come with added pressure, his own expectations are already high enough and the netminder is just trying to take it one day at a time, in hopes that he can leave the league on a high.
“Just take it game by game. Just take it from camp and try to earn that starting spot. Every time I’m on the ice be the hardest working guy out there and the best player out there every time,” he said.
“Take it day by day and with an open mind. Have fun and work hard and everything else will take care of itself.”