Junior Ethan Block has been a key attacker for Hopewell Valley Central High School ice hockey. (Photo by Rich Fisher.)

Ethan Block knew he was born to be a forward when they tried to make him a defenseman.

“I was a defender when I first started and I was a really terrible defender,” Block said. “I was the smallest kid on the team and it made zero sense. I couldn’t hit anybody. It was a really awkward position. Eventually I went up to forward and I realized I was made for it.”

The statistics bear that out. Now in his junior season on the Hopewell Valley Central High ice hockey team, Block entered the season with 24 career goals and 11 assists. He collected 14 and 8 as a freshman and 10 and 2 last year despite being hindered by an ankle injury and missing half the season. Through HoVal’s first three games this year he has 2 goals and 2 assists.

“He has one of the most unbelievable abilities to find some way to make a goal happen,” Bulldogs coach Jeff Radice said. “He’s got the goal scoring touch. Not everybody’s born with that, but he was born with it and he puts it to use for sure.”

He wasn’t using it much in third grade, which is when he started with the Nassau Hockey Club. His natural ability hadn’t yet surfaced, which is what led him to being a blue-liner.

“I was not one of the best players on the team,” he recalled. “They were probably down to the last few kids on the roster so they were like saying to us ‘All right you go here, you’ll play here, you’ll sit the games and Ethan, you play defense.’”

That grand experiment lasted for two years until Block was finally moved up front. His first few seasons were uneventful, but by age 12 his growth began to accelerate and he became faster and stronger and began flying past opposing defenders.

“Ever since then, I just love getting on the ice every single day,” Block said. “It’s definitely one of my favorite things to do outside of school.”

Block was not cut out to be a defenseman, but he became a better forward because he was one.

He certainly has plenty to do while in school. Block is currently in the Model United Nations and Future Business Leaders of America. He also took part in the March For Our Lives after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. He served as the organizer for the march in Philadelphia.

“Ever since then I’ve been in in Philadelphia every other weekend, talking to students, organizing other events, really just getting to know the people in Philadelphia,” Block said. “That’s been a life changing experience.”

One thing that has stayed the same, however, is Block’s fervor for hockey.

After his early days with Nassau, he moved to the Lawrence Flames five years ago and played on their 18 AA team this fall. During his freshman year with the Bulldogs he had five multi-point games and two multi-goal games while getting at least one point in 16 games. In his abbreviated sophomore season, Block three multi-goal games.

“I’m really excited to be back and at full strength,” Block said. “We’ve got a few of our best players from last year off to college, but I’m prepared to step into whatever coach needs me to do.”

Radice knows there is plenty for Block to do.

“We’re kind of a next man, next woman up kind of program as it is,” the coach said. “These guys know that. Somebody goes down, somebody steps up. Ethan knows his role this year and he’s gonna definitely step right into it.”

His role will be to continue scoring, while also providing leadership. It should not be too difficult, as the latter responsibility is an extension of his life.

“The way Ethan carries himself on the ice is the same exact way he carries himself off the ice,” Radice said. “He’s always prepared, he’s always ready to work, he’s very mature, way beyond his age. It definitely carries onto the ice. His leadership has been great. There’s not enough I can say about him. He has a way about him that’s kind of contagious and the guys follow right behind him. It’s exactly what you’re looking for in a leader. “

Block has played left wing most of his career but is in the process of moving to center. He says it doesn’t matter to him “because there’s so much movement, I kind of feel like forward is all one position.”

Being in the right position, however, is the key to Block’s goal scoring.

“I do not have a very good slap shot,” he said. “For me it’s a lot of garbage goals. Nothing pretty. It’s all about getting in front of the net, overpowering other defenders and just getting to the puck. That’s kind of been my main way of scoring and it’s worked so far.”

What has helped make it work, ironically, are his days as a defenseman. Despite not playing the position well, he learned to understand how a defenseman thinks. Thus, he is able to attack them with a better idea of what to do.

“I learned a lot about the game in those first few years and I think defense really allowed me to experience that side of the game,” Block said. “Now that I’m at forward it’s a lot easier because of that. It’s definitely helped. The game has changed since we were barely able to skate around. But I have the ability to tell where a defender is going just by his feet because I was taught that stuff at a very young age. I find it easier because of that.”

Further proof that everything happens for a reason. Block was not cut out to be a defenseman, but he became a better forward because he was one.