On Ice, In Classroom, Eskit Progressing Rapidly
Article By Perry Bergson
As the education of Brandon Wheat Kings rookie goaltender Ethan Eskit continues on the ice, the Western Hockey League team can only hope it advances as quickly as it has in the classroom.
The 17-year-old netminder from Calgary, who has enjoyed a smooth transition to Brandon, is what might be termed a motivated student.
“Honestly, it’s been awesome,” Eskit said. “My billets are great, and I did a lot of my hard courses last year so I’m now down to Law 12 and then will start university courses next semester, so it’s going great.”
You read that right. The 17-year-old student will graduate by Christmas and will begin work on his Bachelor of Commerce with a major in finance in the New Year.
“I’ll knock off a few courses in that and then go from there,” Eskit said.
The Wheat Kings were in action on Sunday night in a road game against the Prince Albert Raiders, in which Eskit stopped 25 of 26 shots he faced in a 3-1 win. After surrendering only three goals in three games, he was named the WHL Rookie of the Week.
The five-foot-10, 185-pound Eskit was involved in one of the more intriguing storylines early in the season as he battled last year’s backup, 19-year-old Nick Jones, for the spot behind Bjarnason.
The younger goalie ultimately won the job, and in ten appearances this season, Eskit has posted a 3.86 goals-against average, an .872 save percentage and 3-5-0-0 record on a team which has been plagued by costly defensive breakdowns.
“This is my learning year,” Eskit said. “I want to develop as much as possible, get some games and learn as much as I can and look at what I have to focus on in the summer and in the next few months and do exactly that.”
The Yale Hockey Academy graduate said he’s fortunate to have 18-year-old starter Carson Bjarnason to learn from every day. Bjarnason, a Philadelphia Flyers prospect, is in his third year with the team and second as the starter.
“Barney made it super easy,” Eskit said. “I just have to look at what I have to do every day to get better. Barney is an awesome mentor for me. I just take things from him and take things from my game and put it together and just have to be patient and wait for my time. It will eventually come.”
Bjarnason was mentored by overage goaltender Ethan Kruger as a 16-year-old rookie and said it’s important for him and Eskit to get along and for him to share what he can with the newcomer.
“I think it’s important for the two goaltenders on the team to gel well, and he’s a good young kid,” Bjarnason said. “I’m just trying to lead the way by example.”
“He’s a really strong skater and has really good fundamentals,” Bjarnason added. “He did really well in U18 so I’m happy to have him up.”
Eskit appreciates every bit of the help.
“We’re super close,” Eskit said. “He’s helped me so much. I can’t even express how thankful I am to have a guy like him in front of me. He’s a great goalie, so you can learn so much from him.”
Eskit signed with the Wheat Kings on Aug. 17, 2022, and debuted last season on March 3, 2023. With Bjarnason battling an injury, he was summoned to back up Jones and played the third period of a 6-1 loss to the host Red Deer Rebels.
He played another partial game and had his first career start on March 7, a 4-3 victory over the host Prince Albert Raiders.
Even with that experience, there’s no shortage of things to pick up as a WHL rookie between the pipes. Eskit acknowledged it’s a massive jump to major junior from U18 prep because major junior players are so much better.
“The compete level, the IQ, how fast plays happen,” Eskit said. “If you’re a little bit off angle or not focused, it’s in the back of the net. You always have to be ready and do the little things off and on the ice that will make you better and give you that small edge.”
With players shooting harder than ever with composite sticks and the increased focus on back-door plays to break down defensive structures, goalies have to be a step ahead all the time.
Eskit admitted it’s a challenge.
“It’s a habit you work on in practice and games,” he said. “It’s hard to do, but if you’re a little bit better every day … It’s a major part of the game. If you can’t read shot releases or read where passes are going, it makes things so much more difficult.”
With the team on another of its lengthy bus trips this season, there is also a learning curve on how to make that work. Eskit said he enjoys his time on the road while balancing the responsibilities of taking care of himself.
“You have great guys around you so you try to have some fun and watch a few movies and rest up when you can,” Eskit said. “Sleep is hard to come by on these trips, so as much sleep as you can get is great.”
That’s all part of the second education he’s receiving, which is essentially making a transition into a whole new lifestyle. Call it a Bachelor of Hockey with a major in junior.
“It takes a few months,” Eskit said. “Last year, I came in and thought I did pretty well, but once you’re fully on the team and practising every day and going on all the road trips, it takes a bit to get used to. It’s all about working hard in practice, being focused and trying to get better every day.”