Ethan Hawes in action during the 2022 Goodall Cup Finals. (Photo: Newcastle Northstars Facebook/AK Hockey Shots; Design: Will Cuckson)

It took 12,352km before Aussie Ethan Hawes was fully introduced to the sport of ice hockey. His family moved to Seattle, USA when he was a kid, and it would kick start a lifelong passion for the sport.

Returning to his hometown of Newcastle this year, Hawes would win the Rookie of the Year award in his first season in the Australian Ice Hockey League, helping guide the Northstars to the finals.

He is one of Australia’s brightest ice hockey talents, and an inspiration to follow your dreams, with eyes firmly set on becoming the second Australian to play in the National Hockey League.

“That’s the end goal and it always has been, and I have never taken my focus off that,” Ethan Hawes told The Inner Sanctum.

“It’s always been something I have strived for, people who have had that dream when they were younger steer away from it a bit and think it’s unrealistic.

“If anything, I have just become more motivated to make it happen and I think it will just be such a huge thing for Australian hockey as well to have another player make it to that level.

“I have a lot of belief in myself, and I know if I keep working hard at it, I will eventually get there [NHL].”

Ethan Hawes winning the 2022 AIHL Rookie of the Year award. (Photo: Newcastle Northstars Facebook/AK Hockey Shots)

Some local skating at the Hunter Ice Skating rink was all that Hawes really knew at a young age. It wasn’t ice hockey related either; that would come when the family moved abroad, where Hawes got a real taste of the sport.

At the suggestion of his father, the then eight-year-old Hawes would join a try hockey for free program at the local rink five minutes from their home. While not enjoying it initially, it would only take a week to get hooked.

“I hated every second of it,” Hawes said.

“So, the seventh day is when I kind of fell in love with it. It wasn’t until that last day that I fell in love with the sport and have been going at it ever since.

“We were there for three or four years until my family moved back [to Australia]. I just stayed and travelled around playing hockey in various states.”

Growing up in Newcastle, playing for the Northstars was the dream for Hawes. That was his first big goal, and getting to suit up for the first time this season was a dream come true.

He was now standing beside players he had idolised throughout his childhood on the ice, highlighting how much teams in the AIHL mean to local communities.

“As a kid I grew up in Newcastle, that was really my NHL growing up before I moved to the States,” Hawes continued.

“Before I even knew about hockey overseas the Northstars was my dream, so that’s always been a goal of mine… to play a full season with them and have good personal success, good team success, making it to the finals.

“Every day I was just waking up pinching myself because it was super special. Players I looked up to when I was younger, I was able to play alongside with.”

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Making the camp for the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League last season, Hawes would play five pre-season games before being let go as things just didn’t work out.

With the high regard he is held in across North America, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that he was announced as Rookie of the Year in the AIHL this season.

“It feels nice to have that hard work pay off, and it’s to have those little accomplishments to show you are going in the right direction,” Hawes said.

“I had an unbelievably strong team around me, that helped me have as good as a first year as I did. They are unspoken heroes a little bit – I really couldn’t have done it without those guys.”

A defender who likes to handle the puck, and isn’t afraid to skate out of his zone and drive his team forward, Hawes is an eye-catcher that has good speed and skating ability. He credits a lot of his play to current Vegas Golden Knights player and friend Shea Theodore.

It was invaluable time spent with Theodore in his early days, shaping his game and becoming what Hawes described as his ice hockey mentor.

“I am privileged enough to call him a friend now,” Hawes continued.

“He was my mentor growing up and I lived with him for a bit. He kind of shaped my game more than anyone in the world, and I still try and play like him and take some pages out of his book.

“I think our skating styles are pretty similar, and that’s no coincidence because he pretty much taught me how to skate really. Now he is in the NHL and having great success, and I kind of try and play like him if anyone in the world.”

Ice hockey is now a 365 day all year-round career for Hawes, currently finding himself on Vancouver Island playing for the Oceanside Generals in the VIJHL. A move to Europe or more opportunities in North America are both realistic possibilities for Hawes; a rink-to-rink lifestyle that suits him just fine.

One thing is guaranteed for 2023 is a return to his hometown team Newcastle Northstars, as he looks to help the club get back to the Goodall Cup Final.

“There is that big part of my heart that wants to start next season already,” Hawes said.

“I still have that burn from that loss, and I don’t think it will ever leave me. We have some unfinished business that we want to get back to. That’s definitely my plan, to come back this next year, and for the rest of my life I will come back to the Northstars to try and win as many cups as I can.”

A boost for the Northstars and the AIHL, one of the country’s brightest stars is putting back into an ice hockey community that has given him so much already.

Ethan Hawes’ name sitting alongside Nathan Walker as Australian players in the NHL – you can’t help but get excited by the prospect.

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