Vernon’s Murray Fairweather will remember his nephew Todd Ewen as a kind soul who treated everybody with respect, played the piano and guitar, and wrote and illustrated children’s books.
On the ice, Ewen was given the nickname The Animal only because other enforcers like Stu (The Grim Reaper) Grimson had frightening monikers. And even though he had 148 fights in 518 NHL games with the St. Louis Blues, Montreal Canadiens, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks, Ewen was hardly known as an animal.
“If you listened to interviews with Todd, he was so soft-spoken,” said Fairweather, who helped mentor Ewen in hockey. “He was a quiet guy who giggled all the time and had a good sense of humour.”
Ewen, who began his Junior hockey career with the Vernon Lakers in 1982, died last Saturday. St. Louis County Police reported it was a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 49.
CTV Calgary reported that Ewen had struggled with depression in recent years. He leaves behind his wife, Kelli, and three children.
Fairweather sent me an uncut live 27-minute audio clip of Ewen talking to award-winning documentary filmmaker and journalist Mike Downie. The piece is called Requiem for a Heavyweight.
Ewen’s sense of humour shines throughout the interview. He talked about his first couple of fights in the show.
“So after the game I call my brother (Dean) up and say, ‘Hey man, just had my second game in the NHL and it was awesome I fought this guy his name is Preburt or Proberb, something like that.” Anyway he doesn’t say anything for a second or two then he goes, ‘Ahh Bob Probert?’ And I said ya that’s the guy. Then he asks, “So how did you do?’ I told him I knocked him out in the first fight with one punch. He says, ‘You just knocked out Bob Probert? You have no idea what you just did, do ya?’ He was right, I had no clue.”
Fairweather, a great senior player back in the day in Saskatoon, recalls getting Ewen a tryout with the Junior A North Battleford Stars.
“He was 14 and fought the toughest guy on the team and beat him,” said Fairweather. “The coach, Stan Dunn, said, ‘I wanna keep him, but he’s only 14.’”
Fairweather served as Ewen’s agent for two years and then stepped aside for a certified player agent.
“Todd was stereotyped as a fighter because he was so strong, but he was a great skater. He could play the game. I know the Ducks signed him for his leadership and character.”
Mark Ferner was a defenceman with those same original Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 1993.
“I was shocked,” said Ferner, head coach/GM of the BCHL Vernon Vipers. “Stu Grimson tweeted it best when he said Todd was a ‘great husband, father, teammate/linemate.’ He was a real intellectual guy and he was very creative. I remember him making a Zamboni out of hockey tape, with all the tiny details.”
Ewen had his best season in his first year with the Ducks, compiling nine goals and 285 penalty minutes. He was an alternate captain for three seasons in Anaheim.
“Between him and Stu, I don’t think they lost a fight,” said Ferner. “We were well protected.”
Ewen, who won a Stanley Cup with the 1993 Canadiens, earning the respect of peers, wrote a few popular children’s books. One of his titles was Hop — a Frog Who Dared to Be Different, which was dedicated to his own children.
After returning to St. Louis he coached hockey, produced instructional videos and sold real estate. He appeared regularly on sports talk radio shows and he recently participated in the team’s fantasy camp with other Blues alumni. The Blues held a moment’s silence in Ewen’s honour at a pre-season game the other night.
“I was proud to call Todd Ewen a teammate and more importantly, a friend,” Brett Hull tweeted. “Can’t believe you’re gone.”
Ewen, who grew up in St. Albert, and teammate Ron Berezowski billeted with Bob and Rosemarie Manton while in Vernon. The Lakers had local boy Gord Simpson as captain and were led in scoring by Stacey Wakabayashi and Mike Enemark. The Penticton Knights had Hull and Ian Kidd that season.
“Todd was so nice,” remembers Rosemarie, who had two young sons. “We would sit around the kitchen with the boys and Todd would draw his pictures. We had two billets from the Pee Wee tournament that year so we had a full house.”
Ewen rang up 14 goals and 178 penalty minutes in 42 games as a 16-year-old with Vernon.
Rosemarie said Ewen stopped by the house a year or two later, “with his cat” for a friendly visit.
I never met Ewen, but did befriend him on Facebook recently to stay closer to the hockey fraternity. I posted the sad news of his death and the tributes quickly started flowing.
From Laker teammate Bob Wensley: “That sucks. Played with him on the Lakers, good kid.”
From retired teacher Marty Stein, a scout for the Red Wings: “Great person. I taught him when I was at VSS. Very personable. Just can’t imagine the demons inside him. Sad day.”
From Kelowna journalist/city councillor Charlie Hodge, who penned two books on hockey legend Howie Meeker: “Tragedy. Another good guy lost in quiet pain.”
From Simpson of the Lakers: “My boy.. SALUTE. You had my back more than once.. truly missed & never forgotten… go get some Ewen.”
From Armstrong’s Don Raffan: “An exceptional good guy. Murray Fairweather’s nephew. He would give us tickets to watch him play when he was with the Canadiens.”
Ewen’s death came one day after Tim Petruk of Kamloops This Week wrote a superb piece on former NHL tough guy Rudy Poeschek, who played with Ewen in Vernon.
Petruk stated that Poeschek “is slowly losing his memory, his hearing — and maybe his life.”
Poeschek is involved in a lawsuit being brought against the NHL by former players. A Minnesota-based law firm is investigating allegations that the NHL hid concussion risks from its players over a decades-long period.
Whether or not Ewen’s death was linked to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy — known as CTE — a disease that has been found to have inflicted many athletes who played collision sport, remains to be seen and won’t bring any comfort to his loved ones. What we do know for sure is the world lost another good man far too soon.