Yes, we believe Todd Ewen of Anaheim's Mighty Ducks might have a place in children's literature. Ever read Where the Wild Things Are? This guy, muscled and malevolent, is 6'2", weighs 220 pounds and is a sort of grim fairy tale himself. Ewen, who puts the Might in the Ducks, is everybody's bad ending, the guy who makes the Grinch seem good-hearted.
The 27-year-old Ewen has been around the NHL eight years now, an enforcer who racks up penalty minutes with a frightening nonchalance. Todd Ewen is why children and hockey players draw their sheets over their heads at night. Maybe he'll just go away.
So it's very strange to learn that Ewen is writing and illustrating a children's fable, called A Frog Named Hop, in which the principal characters are a guitar-playing amphibian and a helpful dragonfly named Whisper. The story, aimed at preschoolers, teaches tolerance for things that are different. The thrills in the tale come from Brat-the-Cat, a kind of feline jock—he's a goon—who doesn't get all this happy nonsense at the water's edge until Whisper brings everyone and everything together. Todd Ewen, NHL tough guy, is writing this? "Life is funny," he says.
In fact, Ewen is not an ogre. His career with the St. Louis Blues, the Montreal Canadiens and now with the expansion team owned by the Walt Disney Company certainly implies that he is not a man to be trifled with. Last season he had 193 penalty minutes with Montreal; this year he has accumulated 82 for the 10-18-2 Ducks. But the style does not describe the man. When the subject of his on-ice mayhem is raised, he actually becomes apologetic. "I have a role," he says almost sadly.
Not everyone from Saskatoon is a Wayne Gretzky, and Ewen was quick to realize it. The most passionate of hockey players—and he is desperate for the sport—are willing to bend their game into whatever shape allows them to keep playing. Ewen had to play hard to stay in the game. There were a lot better skaters who didn't keep up with him through the juniors. But there's hockey, and there's real life. "People are disappointed when I don't break down doors," he says. "But that's not me." He would rather keep his own door closed, drawing gentle cartoons on the art panels with which he always travels.
He has had no artistic training and is often frustrated by making up for lost time. For example, he says, "I would love to draw comics, but how do you create action in the figures? I'd like to learn these things without turning my eraser into a thin little wafer." So far experience has been his only teacher.
As for inspiration, that came from former Canadien teammate Ryan Walter, who has written several unpublished children's books. Here, thought Ewen, was a place for his growing gallery of doodles, which he had begun during those 36-hour bus rides in the juniors. Besides, as the father of two small boys, Ewen realizes that there is always room for more children's literature. He also believes that everyone ought to have a way to express his own values. "I'm that old-time, white-picket-fence kind of person," he says. "I wanted to put those values forth."
When the book is finished, Ewen plans to market it on his own, without the aid of Disney. He insists on independence for his little story. "It has to stay mine," he says. In the meantime he wades through the NHL tough guys, all of whom know about his off-ice abilities. "Nobody teases me much," he says, although he remembers one hockey hoodlum sputtering some kind of insult, saying, "Sit down and paint me a picture." Good one! Isn't it nice to know that with Ewen in the NHL, the worst thing one gunslinger can say to the other is "Draw!"
A softie at heart, the NHL enforcer draws more than just penalty minutes.