During the 1993-94 season, the greatest year in Todd Ewen’s 11-year National Hockey League career, he scored nine goals for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Over those 11 years on NHL ice, Ewen scored the underwhelming total of 36 goals.
But he wasn’t on the team to score goals. He was there to compile penalty minutes, of which, in that magic year Ewen had 272. For his career, he had 1911. All hockey players get penalties, and there are a lot of ways to incur them; clutching an opponent’s uniform or his stick, tripping, cross-checking and high sticking. Ewen committed all those penalties, but he had a disproportionate number of penalties for fighting and a lot of added penalty minutes for drawing blood.
Todd Ewen was an enforcer. It is a position known to all, though rarely mentioned officially in hockey record books. Most professional rosters have at least one enforcer; people whose job is intimidation through against-the-rules use of force. Against the rules, every fight – every first punch, for sure – is a penalty, though ingrained in National Hockey League culture … and marketing.
The joke became a cliché; everyone’s heard it – “I went to a fight and a hockey match broke out.”
Over Todd Ewen’s NHL career he, “broke three knuckles and every finger on both hands. His nose was reconstructed three times and his eye socket was shattered. He blew out both knees. He had multiple concussions, black eyes and stitches on his face.”
But for all of that, our guest today Ken Belson reported recently in the New York Times, “After he retired, Ewen became an investment broker, worked in real estate, received five patents for various inventions and earned a degree in information technology. He coached the St. Louis University hockey team for several years, but resigned in 2013 because he started to miss practices and forget plays.”
Two years later, at the age of 49, Todd Ewen shot himself to death.
He was not the first former enforcer to die young in neurological distress. Rick Rypien was 27. Wade Belak was 35. Derek Boogaard was 28. The pathologist said she couldn’t believe a brain that young could be so engulfed in chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Two more enforcers, Steve Montador and the greatest enforcer of them all, Bob Probert died at 35 and 45 respectively, beset by depression and bouts of anger and violence. Boogard, Montador and Probert had CTE. So, naturally, Todd Ewen’s wife Kelli wondered if Todd Ewen did, too.
Ken Belson covers the National Football League for the New York Times. He joined the Times Sports section in 2009 after stints in Metro and Business. From 2001 to 2004, he wrote about Japan in the Tokyo bureau.