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Clippers’ Mistry provides offensive punch from the blue line

Nanaimo Clippers defender Ethan Mistry‘s skills were identified early on by a Hockey Hall of Fame member.

The Toronto product recalls being a centre early in his hockey career. Around the age of eight, Mistry moved and tried out for a new team. The squad’s coach – Paul Coffey – moved him to defense.

“I told people for a while that if a Hall of Fame (defender) tells you to be a (defender), you don’t have another choice, so I’ve stuck with it ever since,” he said.

Coffey won three Stanley Cups in Edmonton and one in Pittsburgh. He claimed the Norris Trophy three times as the National Hockey League’s best defender.

“He kind of transitioned the game in the way he played,” said Mistry. “He was really offensive, but he was able to make sure he was maintaining a solid defensive presence.”

This season in the BC Hockey League, Mistry has established himself as one of the circuit’s top offensive threats from the back end. As of this writing, he is tied for tops in the league in scoring among defenders with 44 points in 41 games. The playmaker led all BCHL blueliners with 35 assists. He ranked fifth in the BCHL in assists.

“His intelligence sets him apart,” Clippers head coach Colin Birkas said of the Brown University commit. “He sees the ice better than almost anyone in the league offensively from the backend. He is very serious in his prep (and) very studious about the game.”

Hard work leads to Mistry’s offensive improvement

Last season, the 2003-born player’s first with the Clippers, Mistry scored five goals and recorded 27 points. With eight goals and 44 points, he has already well surpassed those numbers. He credits his point production this season to hard work over the summer.

At exit interviews last season, Mistry said his shot was identified as an area he could work on. He acknowledges it too. “Some of my teammates would have told you last year (that) I didn’t have the greatest shot.”

He explains how it’s become another tool in his toolbox. “(It’s) another weapon – something to add to my arsenal. I’m getting a lot of assists off rebounds from the point.”

His shot has improved since focusing on it in the summer as he worked on strengthening his grip and wrists. “It was a lot of repetition working on my shot out in the driveway, and working on my shot out on the ice.”

While others might have wanted to focus on summer pastimes, Mistry was happy to put in time on his game.

“Like many players at this level do, I love playing,” he said. “I love hockey. That’s why I do it. It doesn’t feel like a chore when you’re working on something like that.”

At 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, Mistry is also more than willing to work on the defensive part of his game. “I’ve got to make sure I’m making good reads with my stick.” In the summer, he trains with older players competing at higher levels of hockey, saying it allows him to see what they’re looking for. “(I get to) see how they’re trying to beat me, and (then) bring that back to the team environment.”

Clippers teammates such as Kai Daniells, Brody Waters, Jérémie Payant, and Jacob Hewitt, to name a few, are good one-on-one players who each have different strengths. “Our Clippers practices are really competitive and it’s fun to challenge myself against those guys,” he explaned.

Success for the Clippers

In addition to his on-ice skill, Birkas expressed that Mistry also brings maturity and leadership to the Clippers. “He cares about his game, but also the program’s success. Everything he does is methodical and with a purpose for both his development and that of the Clippers.”

Last season, the Clippers made it all the way to the league’s Fred Page Cup final. In fact, Nanaimo swept its first three playoff series before falling 4-0 to Penticton.

“It was really fun,” said Mistry of the playoff run. “It brought us together. It was a really great experience (and) we’re hoping we can kind of recreate that this year.”

The Clippers have already clinched a playoff spot and lead the BCHL’s Coastal Division with a 31-9-1-0 record.

“We have a lot of returners who know what it takes to go on a deep playoff run and, at the end of the day, we know what it doesn’t take and what we need to improve on if we really want to win a championship – which I think we all do,” said Mistry. “We’re super excited and we know the real work is starting here.”

Past success

Mistry has a winning pedigree. In the competitive Greater Toronto Hockey League, he helped his Don Mills Flyers squad win a GTHL U15 title in 2017-18 and a championship in the U16 ranks in 2018-19. Mistry captained the latter squad, which won the prestigious Ontario Hockey League Cup showcase tournament.

The Don Mills teams were certainly talented as they featured a number of players who have been drafted and/or signed by NHL teams, including Shane Wright, who the Seattle Kraken grabbed fourth overall in the 2022 NHL Draft. However, Mistry also emphasizes how close those teams were, persevering after losing their goalie Roy Pejcinovski tragically in 2018.

“It made for kind of a special situation and something that cannot be recreated. You wouldn’t want it to be recreated, but it made for a really tight group and I think our Clippers group is really strong as well,” he said.

“Everyone is friends off the ice (and) that helps create a positive environment where guys want to help each other in practice and that’s going to help us be good in games. The communication is really good.”

On the Flyers, Mistry was partnered with Brandt Clarke on defense. The blueliner currently plays for the OHL’s Barrie Colts and was a 2021 NHL first-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings. Clarke already played nine games for the Kings this season before being reassigned to the Colts in January.

Mistry sees similarities in his relationship with current Clippers D-partner Michael Craig and what he had with Clarke. “The way I am able to chat and banter with Craig (and) pick his brain. He’s an offensive (defender) himself so it’s good to be able to bounce things off him, similar to how I was able to with Brandt.”

After playing for the Flyers, Mistry spent a season at Milton Academy in Milton, MA. He played for that school’s squad and the Massachusetts-based 16U AAA Neponset Valley River Rats. He signed to play for the Toronto Jr. Canadians in the Ontario Junior Hockey League for the 2020-21 season, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the campaign to be cancelled.

Mistry headed to the Boston area and played in the Pandemic Hockey League organized by Neutral Zone. Clippers forward Rylan Yates also competed in the league during the spring of 2021. While it gave Mistry a place to work on his game, he acknowledges it was an adjustment moving up to junior A last season. The Clippers acquired his rights from the Canadians in July 2021.

“It’s tough to not get any real game action because as much as it was a good league and there were good players in it, it was a difference in intensity,” said Mistry. “You don’t get playoffs and you don’t get the environment of the guys working together for a whole year.”

“It was definitely challenging stepping back into those first few preseason games last year, but I think that I made sure I was taking the time to focus on my development and making sure I was strong and individualized for myself,” he added.

Future at Brown University and beyond

In 2020, while playing at Milton, Mistry committed to competing at the NCAA Division I level for Brown University. The Ivy League institution is located in Providence, Rhode Island.

“I really like the coaching staff there,” said Mistry. “I always felt like in discussions with them (that) one of the most important things was I wanted to go somewhere I was valued, (and) they saw me for who I am as a player. Everything has remained true (when) speaking with the coaching staff ever since. I’m really excited to go to that school.”

Mistry plans on studying economics and wants to pursue an investment banking career in the future. No matter where life takes Mistry, his coach in Nanaimo believes he will succeed.

“It could be exhausting for me to say all the good things (about) the young man,” said Birkas. “He will be a success on the ice for some time, and even longer off it.”