VANCOUVER — This is a story of a dog called Bronco, a baby named Gracie and the circle of life. Ethan Bear’s life.
If you’re a dog person, you’ll get it. If you just have a heart, you should too.
The Vancouver Canucks defenceman’s life has been a tilt-a-whirl since Jan. 21, when he and fiancée Lenasia Ned suddenly lost their beloved five-year-old dog in the early hours after Bear got home from a game at Rogers Arena against the Colorado Avalanche.
A tweet that Bear would miss the next night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers due to his dog did not tell the full story. The grief and heartbreak over losing Bronco, a Yorkie-Dachshund cross that had been part of the couple’s “family” since Bear began his professional career, sent Lenasia into labour and two days later (and two weeks early), she delivered baby Gracie.
“Lenasia was so heartbroken, so crying, I think that forced her into labour,” Bear said before leaving Wednesday with the Canucks for a three-game road trip that starts Thursday night in Arizona. “Four hours after we lost him, she started having contractions.”
Bear missed three games — the last one of the Bruce Boudreau era and the first two under Rick Tocchet — before returning to the Canucks lineup on Jan. 27. But 10 games after that, on Feb. 25, with Bear still processing the clash of emotions from a month earlier, he was injured when frighteningly struck in the mouth by a deflected puck one shift into a game against the Boston Bruins.
Bear lost a tooth — and will likely lose more as the roots of neighbouring teeth die — and suffered a concussion and a hairline fracture above his lip. Had he not been wearing a mouthguard, he said, his face could have been shattered.
After missing the last seven games, Bear is expected to return again during the road trip that includes back-to-back weekend games in Los Angeles and Anaheim. He’ll wear a full face shield.
So, yeah, it has been quite a couple of months for him. The Canucks acquired Bear in October in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes.
“It was really hard losing our dog, especially because he was only five,” Bear said. “He’d been with me my whole pro career. I got him for Lenasia when I turned pro (in 2017-18), so she would have someone there when I was away most of the year.
“He was with me in my second year in Bakersfield (in the American League), the whole year, in Edmonton and Carolina. He was like part of the family. The way we talked to him … he was so smart. You could tell what he was thinking, what he was feeling. He was the perfect dog for me. And to lose him just suddenly?
“I came home from the Colorado game and when I got home … his eyes were still there when he was lying on the couch. But we picked him up and he was like a rag doll. We just dropped everything, tried to rush to the hospital and on our way to the vet, he passed on our way there. That’s one of the most heartbreaking experiences.
“You just can’t believe it. You’re trying to stay strong for Lenasia because she’s pregnant, but to see how heartbroken she was, it was just really hard.”
Bear said Bronco got sick the day before, but a vet sent them home with medication and the prognosis was the illness would pass and the dog would be fine. The next night, the Canucks lost 5-2 to Colorado, and after the game Bronco died.
“He was a wiener dog,” Bear said. “He was only five, which is really young. But we always called him an old man because he always liked his own space. He was like an old soul.”
Bear said losing Bronco brought them Gracie, and the grief they felt — and their experiences looking after Bronco and their other dog, Flower — helped Lenasia and him prepare for parenthood in their early 20s.
The couple’s off-season home is Kelowna, B.C., which is where Lenasia is from. Bear was born in Regina but grew up in the Ochapowace Nation near Whitewood, Sask.
The couple met through social media in 2015, then in person when Bear visited Kelowna with the Seattle Thunderbirds, his junior team.
“As much as we wanted to be sad about (Bronco) … the way I believe it, he helped bring strength to Gracie and Lenasia,” Bear said. “Celebrating Gracie’s life, it gave us time to celebrate his life at the same time.
“The saying I always believe in is that everything does happen for a reason and only time has the answer for that. I really think it does because Gracie came.”