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Friday, June 7, 2013

From Jamaica with gloves and sticks

Jermaine Loewen can hardly wait to start his WHL career.
(Jonathan Kozub/Point Shot Photography)
 By SCOTT BILLECK

WINNIPEG — Stories of hockey success usually don’t start in the Caribbean country of Jamaica. In fact, only one player from Jamaica, Graeme Townshend, has ever played in the NHL.
Jermaine Loewen of Arborg, Man., by way of Jamaica, hopes to change the total to two.
Loewen’s life began in Jamaica when Stan and Tara Loewen, his parents, were there doing short-term volunteer work at a children’s home.
“That is where we met him,” Stan says. “We didn’t go down there with the intent to adopt, but we met this little boy there, three years old at the time, and we said we’ve got to give him a family.  And so we started the process of adopting.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Jermaine first strapped on a pair of skates a year after he came to Canada. He started playing organized hockey at the age of 10.
“This upcoming fall will be five years since he first started playing hockey,” Stan says. “When he started playing organized hockey he picked up on it fairly quickly. He was obviously rough around the edges, including all the rules. He didn’t understand the lines on the ice and icings and offsides, but he was a very athletic kid.”
These days, Loewen is a highly touted prospect. In fact, the Kamloops Blazers selected him with the 48th pick of the WHL’s 2013 bantam draft last month.
“We really like his size, for a big guy he is a very good skater,” says Matt Recchi, the Blazers’ director of player personnel. “His work ethic is top of the charts. He is a complete player with how hard he works offensively and defensively.”
At just 15 years of age, the 6-foot-2, 175-pound left winger possesses vision and a knack for scoring goals, as well as the grittiness to be effective in the WHL. This season, Loewen recorded 55 points, including 31 goals, in 31 games with the bantam AAA Interlake Lightning.
“He has very good skill set,” Recchi says. “He knows how to score goals. He knows how to make plays. He is the captain of the Interlake Lightning and he leads by example every night. We envision him as a player who could push to make our roster at the age of 16.
“In how far he has come, the fact he has played hockey for only four or five years, our projection on him is he is going to continue to improve and be a very good player for us in a few years.”
Jermaine’s parents couldn’t be more thrilled for their son.
“We are obviously very happy for him,” Stan says. “It is Jermaine’s goal and dream to play at an elite level. He is a very hard-working kid, very self-motivated. He works out very hard at home in the offseason. So it is good to see him rewarded.
“It makes all the travel, the thousands of miles driven, worth it as well.”
Like any parents of an adolescent, Stan and Tara have the normal thoughts about having their child move forward with hockey.
“We have the normal parent concerns of a 16-year-old moving away from home,” Stan says. “If he did move away we ask questions about how is the organization, not the winning or losing record, but is it a stable organization with good management and also a good billet family and good schooling, as well.”
With the help of friends, coaches and advisors, the Loewens are confident in the team that drafted their son.
“We are certainly happy with the organization in Kamloops,” Stan says. “We have heard nothing but good things from multiple people, so we have been assured that there is a good ownership group and a good organization.”
Strong coaching has been an invaluable asset to Loewen’s development over the last five seasons. However, Dwayne Swanson, his coach with the Lightning, gives Loewen all of the credit.
“His best attribute is his strength in general,” Swanson says. “There were times where he basically carried our team on his shoulders. His competitiveness is just outstanding.
“His work ethic is second to none as well, even with being the most-talented kid on the team. He is always looking for more, trying to push harder every drill.  He has got this thirst to learn . . . a good, good hockey player.”
Loewen is excited about his opportunities.
“I was really stoked. I’m really happy to be drafted by the Kamloops organization,” he says. “I was hoping that I got drafted and when I saw my name there I was really happy.”
When it comes to his future, Loewen makes no qualms about where he wants to be and what he wants to achieve.
“I want to play in the NHL,” he says.

(Scott Billeck writes for ManitobaHockeyNews.com. He’s at twitter.com/scottbilleck.)


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