The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, December 25, 2019 1:00 am

Roots fuel Komets' fire

Loewen's toughest fight is coping with pain from early life in Jamaica

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Jermaine Loewen believes hockey can be more than a sport. It can be, he explained, a metaphor for the trials and tribulations we experience away from the ice.

When you see the 21-year-old forward use his 6-foot-4, 216-pound frame to steamroll an opponent, his intuition to thwart an opposing team's power play, or his enthusiasm to help the Komets to a come-from-behind victory, it's a bit of art imitating his life.

Loewen can dig into his past experiences – no one could have predicted he would have grown into a professional hockey player – to get the motivation he needs at any game or practice.

And he hopes he can inspire others through his story.

“God blessed me with this, playing (hockey) and my abilities, so the least I can do is give back and encourage people who have a path and are driven, that they have something,” he said. “That's why I do this, and I have to never forget where I came from.”

Loewen, who was born in Mandeville, Jamaica, is the first person from that country to be drafted by an NHL team. Had a couple from Arborg, Manitoba, not found him, though, he surely never would have wound up playing for the Komets.

Despite playing only nine games for Fort Wayne, he's already become one of the fans' favorite players. That standing was cemented in the 4-3 overtime loss to the Indy Fuel at Memorial Coliseum on Friday, when he engaged in a 57-second fight with Jake Schultz that was so long, so grueling, it was a throwback to hockey from the early 1990s.

“He's a big presence, that's what he is,” Komets coach Ben Boudreau said. “Guys know when he's barreling down on the forecheck. After the fight, he said, 'Next thing you know, the seas kind of parted like it was Moses right there.' That's a reputation earned by a big tough guy. You don't necessarily have to punch guys in the face to get that done; you go to the net, you draw penalties, ... and slowly but surely he's developing his game. We really like him.”

Jermaine had been given up by his birth parents, was 3 and living in a children's home in May Pen, Jamaica, when his life was changed by Stan and Tara Loewen, who had traveled with a church group to help renovate the facilities.

“That is where we met Jermaine,” Stan said. “After a few weeks down there, (my wife and I) looked at each other and had that conversation – 'Are you thinking what I'm thinking' – and we both had come to strongly bond with him. Jermaine had stood out so much to both of us.”

Of the 18 kids at the home, Jermaine was the only one available for adoption. Two years later, the adoption process was completed and Stan and Tara brought him back to Arborg, a prairie town north of Winnipeg that had a population of about 1,200.

“He's a 5-year-old kid and knows he's going to Canada. But what does that really mean in a 5-year-old's mind?” Stan Loewen said. “It's hard to know what went through his mind other than, 'I'm going to a new country with new people.' ... That must have been so scary for a 5-year-old to do that, you know?

“You have people picking you up and taking you thousands of miles away to a different climate, different weather, different food. We do speak English but with different accents. It was a huge adjustment in many ways.”

While there were, of course, difficult moments, they were outweighed by the great ones. Like Jermaine experiencing his first snowfall or being embraced by Stan and Tara's large extended family. (They would later adopt a girl, Makeda, from Ethiopia and another boy, Nathaneal, from Jamaica.)

Of course, Stan and Tara bought Jermaine ice skates. He was 6 and his reaction wasn't typical Canadian.

“I was a little bit disappointed,” Jermaine chuckled, admitting a toy truck had been what he wanted.

“But after awhile I realized, you know, this is pretty good and I like playing hockey. I feel like all the things we go through in life, hockey is like a catalyst for that. You can use that emotion and help change people and show people that whatever you go through in life – and I believe this – that whatever you go through you can help impact somebody else by the way you play the game.”

While Jermaine played soccer and dabbled in pond hockey, he didn't start organized hockey until he was 11 – much later than most of the people he would play with and against.

About five years after that, aided by a growth spurt, he was drafted to play in the Western Hockey League, a junior circuit, with the Kamloops Blazers. He didn't tally a single point during his first season but gradually developed before a breakout 2017-18, when he had 36 goals, 64 points and 80 penalty minutes in 66 games.

He was selected by the Dallas Stars in the seventh round of the 2018 NHL draft. After a season of 28 goals and 46 points in 59 games for Kamloops in 2018-19, he wasn't signed by the Stars and was picked up by the Vegas Golden Knights, who are affiliated with the Komets.

He has spent the majority of his rookie season in the higher-level American Hockey League – he has one goal and two points in 19 games for the Chicago Wolves – but could get plenty of time to hone his game in the ECHL.

“I just want to continue to do whatever I can to get myself better,” said Jermaine, who has one goal, two points and 15 penalty minutes in nine games for the Komets. “It's being an incrementalist; you start one day here and what are you going to be at the end of the season? That's the way I think about it. There are going to be ups and downs. But it's the big picture of life and the game.”

The Komets like the way he uses his body in front of the net. His lone Fort Wayne goal, in a 5-3 victory over Indy on Nov. 2, came with him stationed outside the crease to redirect a Taylor Ross shot.

“It took me awhile to really learn how to use my size,” Jermaine said. “There are times I can still be better at using my size, but for only playing as long as I have, the way I'm using my body, I'm learning. I'm not satisfied, but I'm learning and I like instilling good practice habits.”

There are many details about his pre-Manitoba life that Jermaine Loewen and his family have chosen to keep to themselves. But Jermaine, who last visited Jamaica about four years ago, said he feels great responsibility to give back to the communities he's been a part of and to inspire others.

“I have memories but I use those memories to help propel me forward,” Jermaine said. “A lot of those memories, I keep to myself because it's really, really hard stuff. People know my story and they do reports on it, but I don't want it to bring so much attention on myself because I try to be a humble guy. It's nice when people recognize my story and want to talk about it, though.”

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