Jagged Journey: Ethan Crossman's Career Across the Q
Few players have had a traveled career quite like Ethan Crossman.
The Sackville, New Brunswick native has had a long, five-year Quebec Major Junior Hockey League career that has taken him across the league, from the big city in Quebec to the smallest market in the Canadian Hockey League in Bathurst, where he reached the pinnacle of junior hockey, before eventually ending in Charlottetown.
The journey, however, began close to home. After a successful season in Saskatchewan with the Notre Dame Hounds, Crossman was drafted in the third round, 54th overall, by the Moncton Wildcats in the 2015 QMJHL Draft. Although he had an NCAA commitment to the University of Maine, the opportunity to return to New Brunswick and play for his hometown team was too good to pass up.
"I grew up playing for the Moncton Hawks, so being able to come home helped me make that decision." said Crossman.
His hard work in training camp led to the 16-year-old Crossman earning a spot on what was a stacked roster, boasting the likes of Conor Garland, Cameron Askew, Kevin and Kelly Klima, Zack MacEwen, and Manuel Wiederer. With a veteran-heavy roster, Crossman soon found himself in a battle for ice time.
"We had a good team and I was young; I was the only 16-year-old on the roster." Crossman explained.
In Moncton's efforts to build themselves into a stronger contender that season, Ethan was traded to the Quebec Remparts. Despite moving to a team that was in the rebuilding phase of the cycle, Crossman never gained solid footing in the lineup.
"I really struggled that year with being in and out of the lineup," he explained. "Like a lot of 16-year-olds do."
That summer, Crossman dedicated himself to the sport, getting in better shape in advance of his second QMJHL training camp.
"I went back that season and had a great start to the year; I won the fitness testing, I led the team in points in the pre-season, I was really happy with my training camp." Ethan explained.
Unfortunately, the pre-season success didn't translate to the regular season. After cracking the scoresheet in his first few games, Ethan soon found himself in and out of the lineup once again. Ultimately, a tough decision was made.
"We made a mutual decision between the coach, GM, and I to move to Junior A," said Ethan. "I said 'What do you think of me getting more ice time in Woodstock?' Fabian Joseph was the head coach there and I know him really well; I was good friends with his son, and he coached me in spring hockey. It seemed like a no-brainer."
Crossman's time with the MHL's Woodstock Slammers proved fruitful both on and off the ice; although the team as a whole missed the playoffs, Crossman finished third on the team in points despite spending half the season in Quebec. Off the ice, Crossman was able to get back in to a classroom setting and finish high school on time with his friends. While it seemed like a return to the major junior level was imminent, Crossman wasn't so sure.
"Being able to get back in a classroom setting and graduate on time was big. Did I really want to go back to doing online schooling in Quebec, where I don't even know if I'm going to play? I had no idea what I was going to do?" he explained.
One call, however, changed all of that.
"I got a call from Bathurst, letting me know they had traded for me at the end of summer. They simply asked, 'Will you come to camp?'"
The Acadie-Bathurst Titan acquired Crossman and defenseman Felix-Antoine Drolet from the Remparts in exchange for a sixth and seventh round pick, with nothing more promised than an invite to training camp to see if he still had what the Wildcats saw in him as an up-and-coming prospect. It was a similar situation for Ethan in Bathurst as it was in Moncton; the Titan figured to be a contender that season with a mix of proven veterans like Adam Holwell, Jeffrey Truchon-Viel, and Samuel l'Italien alongside exciting young NHL prospects in Antoine Morand and Noah Dobson. It was difficult to see where exactly the unproven Crossman would fit in yet another deep lineup.
Crossman wouldn't just find his way in to the lineup; he'd flourish. Finding a groove alongside l'Italien on the team's third line, Crossman would net 21 goals and 44 points in his first full season at the major junior level, a season that helped him re-discover a passion for the game.
"It made me fall in love with hockey all over again," Ethan said regarding that season. "I started going in to every game thinking 'I'm just going to have fun today'. I'd take a moment and remind myself why I'm doing this, and it's to have fun. I'm a competitive guy; if I get to compete, win, have fun, and get my education along the way, I'm living the dream."
"We had such an awesome group of guys and we seemed to grow so easily throughout the year. Everyone supported each other so well, it was an amazing year."
That amazing year led to the ultimate prize in junior hockey. With Crossman taking on a major role in the playoffs, he and his Titan teammates captured both the President's Cup and Memorial Cup as the CHL's top team. Ethan was a big part of that team success; he finished second on the Titan and fifth in the entire QMJHL with 10 goals in the President's Cup playoffs while adding three goals in the Memorial Cup, including the empty-net goal to help seal the Mem Cup victory.
The win didn't come without sacrifices; Ethan played the majority of that playoff run with a torn labrum in his hip. He'd elect to have surgery to repair it, leading to a summer spent in physiotherapy to be ready for a late start to the season. When he returned, it was to a Bathurst team that had begun the downswing of what is known as the "junior hockey cycle", trading away the players that remained from the playoff run in return for players and draft picks that could help for another run in the future.
As a 19-year-old on an increasingly younger team, Crossman soon became a casualty of war. He was traded to the Baie-Comeau Drakkar at the 2018-2019 Christmas trading period in exchange for a package of draft picks. Ethan praised Titan GM Sylvain Couturier for his handling of the situation.
"I have tons of time for Sylvain Couturier. He's a great guy; the first guy to really give me an opportunity to succeed. We developed a bond because he took that chance on me and it worked out for both of us." Ethan explained. "He was upfront with me, telling me that teams were offering a lot for me and that I would be traded."
Crossman admitted that with his past experiences there was some hesitation in returning to a Quebec team; however once he was there, that hesitation was alleviated. He was reunited with other members of that 2018 Bathurst team, most notably Samuel l'Italien, his linemate from the season before.
"I told myself 'It's only half a season, we're making a run for it, I'm more experienced, and I'm much more mentally capable of handling anything that's thrown at me'." Ethan said. "I focused on school and hockey and made the most of my time there. I had a blast in Baie-Comeau."
His focus once again yielded success; educationally, Crossman would throw himself in to schooling, excelling in his online classes alongside Keenan MacIsaac, another member of the Titan with the Drakkar. On the ice, he took his play to another level; with 30 points in 33 games, Crossman was producing at the best rate of his career. He was even named the CHL's Player of the Week at one point during the season.
"Away from the rink was school and at the rink it was hockey. There was no distractions at all, you could just dial in on things. It allowed me to have a great year in Baie-Comeau."
As a team, the success was stopped short. The Drakkar ran in to a Moncton Wildcats team led by strong goaltending from Francis Leclerc in the first round of the playoffs. The Wildcats would defeat the Drakkar in seven games, denying a strong contender the run that everyone expected.
Following the end of the season Ethan would find himself on the move once again. As was the case in Bathurst, Baie-Comeau would begin the rebuilding cycle of junior hockey, dealing Crossman to another contender just down the road in the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. Before he'd head there, however, he had one more stop to make before the beginning of the season.
"We got a call from my agent telling me that I'd been invited to the Carolina Hurricanes rookie camp," Crossman explained. "It was nuts. They flew us to Carolina where we met everyone before flying to Nashville for the rookie tournament."
"The whole experience was surreal," he continued. "I was in Nashville, Tennessee with a pro hockey team. We'd have either a practice or a game, then be given the freedom to explore downtown Nashville. It was so cool."
Ethan continued his hot play in Nashville, earning praise from the coaching staff.
"In my exit interview, the coaches said 'You impressed the hell of out us. You were supposed to only play one game and you forced us to play you in every game. You brought leadership and life to the group'." Crossman said.
Ethan would ride that momentum back to Chicoutimi to a strong Sagueneens team expected to make noise this season. With a mix of high-end young talent and proven winning veterans such as Crossman and Rafael Harvey-Pinard, each player was expected to play a specific role to contribute to the team's success. Unfortunately, the role doesn't always match the player's playing style; that was the case with Crossman.
"In Bathurst I played with l'Italien and a number of other wingers, usually Mitchell Balmas or Liam Murphy, and we played a lot. In Baie-Comeau they traded for me to play with l'Italien again; we played an offensive role and were expected to generate points," he explained "When I got to Chicoutimi, they wanted me to play a different role than I was expecting to play. On top of that, there was the transition to playing on the bigger ice surface."
"I really enjoyed my time in Chicoutimi, but from a hockey operations standpoint we just weren't on the same page. We tried hard to get on the same page, but it just didn't work out."
In his final season of junior hockey, Ethan had already reached the top of the junior hockey world and experienced what it's like to be a pro. He'd done everything and started to put value in what it meant to be a 20-year-old university student.
"I realized I'd really like to be back in the Maritimes, back in a school setting where I actually go to class, and do things that any typical 20-year-old would."
A final move would be made, and Crossman would be on his way back to the Maritimes. The Charlottetown Islanders acquired Crossman in exchange for a 4th and 7th round pick. The news came as music to Crossman's ears.
"When Jim called me and told me I was traded to Charlottetown, I was ecstatic. I couldn't believe I was actually headed there, I'd been talking about wanting to play in Charlottetown forever," said Crossman. "I have great relationships in PEI from my time at Andrew's Hockey; I'd even poked at Brad Mackenzie and Paul Drew about getting traded there. It was actually a dream come true to be able to finish my career in PEI."
Crossman's time in Charlottetown was short, but sweet; Crossman was put back in a role more comfortable to his playing style, sliding alongside Nikita Alexandrov and Thomas Casey towards the end of the season. He re-discovered his offensive flair, recording 19 points in 26 games as an Islander. Unfortunately, the season didn't end as anyone would have imagined with the sudden cancellation due to COVID-19. Despite that, Crossman was happy that it ended with the Islanders.
"If I were to pick once place where I wanted to play, it would be Charlottetown. I could see myself living here some day."
Ethan's hockey career now transitions to the university level, where he'll join St. Francis Xavier X-Men next season alongside teammate Brendon Clavelle. He'll be continuing a family tradition there; it's where his mother attended university, along with a number of cousins."
In five years of hockey, Ethan Crossman has lived in six different major junior cities across Eastern Canada, taken a chance on himself, and won the top prize in junior hockey. It's been a wild ride, but one that he wouldn't change.
"It's crazy to think about how much I've grown mentally thanks to my time in junior hockey." Crossman said. "I've built relationships all over Eastern Canada just from being in this situation. I'm so grateful for all the support that I've helped me along the way. All the billet families that I've had; junior hockey wouldn't be possible without billets. All my coaches, my family who have driven all the way to Baie-Comeau to watch me play hockey, I'm so thankful for them."
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Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Stories from March 26, 2020
- Jagged Journey: Ethan Crossman's Career Across the Q - Charlottetown Islanders
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