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|Frew's story in hockey isn't over yet|
|Written by Justin Bourne|
|Wednesday, 06 October 2010 14:55|
Life was unfair to the hockey career of Tommy Frew, whose skills and hard work made the NHL draft a real possibility as a teenager. At age 36, his new dream is to become the NHL's oldest rookie.
Hockey is more than just a game for many.
To get a feel for a person's self-image, psychologists will often ask a person to use five words to describe themselves. You know, "Canadian", "tall", "caring" – whatever words or phrases they find they most relate to. If "hockey player" is among the first five describing words, it's more than a game to you.
Tommy grew up in the hockey hotbed of St. Catharines, Ontario, tearing up the sheets and quickly climbing the ranks, cracking a junior roster by 15.
By the time he was 17 going on 18, his draft year, he was hearing talk about being drafted in the NHL's early rounds. His speed and skill helped him stand out in a landscape where it's tough to get noticed. The dream was becoming a reality, and quick.
But life, as it occasionally does, can derail even the fastest moving dreams.
Frew started to feel different. Sluggish. Slow. He just didn't have the pep that players who relied on great speed, like him, need to succeed. It was time to go to the hospital.
And so began a journey of medical frustrations. His symptoms were inarguably there, but exactly what he had was tough to pin down.
Doctors figured he had contracted with mononucleosis, a relatively common condition that tends to plague people his age. But it seemed he had a very persistent case of mono. One that wouldn't go away. His spleen was so swollen they wouldn't let him on the ice for an entire year. At 18 years old, that can do more than throw a career off track – it can downright bury it.
After a number of mentally trying months before the next season, the doctors finally pinpointed the problem. Tommy had Epstein-Barr, a condition that causes constant fatigue and malaise, a combination of symptoms that makes being an effective hockey player impossible.
While his illness dragged on, his hockey career was slipping. It was all he ever wanted to do, it was his life. He was a hockey player.
When the illness finally released its grip on his young career, the draft long past, he set sail at 20 for Europe and a chance at a re-birth in Germany. It was a testament to his abilities that, after not playing for what seemed to him like an eternity, professional teams were still eager to retain his services.
But luck, once again, was not on his side.
His German team quickly went bankrupt, forcing Tommy out of a job. He had had enough. He found a team in Austria to finish with, but it was time to move on from hockey. Raw talent and sheer speed were pushed aside to start a new beginning. It was time for a life after hockey, if there could be one.
It was a long time before he would return to the game. He suffered watching a number of his friends live out his dream. He stopped following the NHL. His passion for hockey that was once unmatched burned him like an ex-lover, and it was time to separate from the game for a bit.
As the years passed, Tommy grew into his new life. For years he's been living with his wife Jenny and children Tomas (15) and Jenny (13), and teaching high school. He's been teaching the right way – preaching that kids dream big and reach for the stars, maintaining his focus on positive affirmations and shutting out negativity.
I know, because when I talked to him, the first words he said were "oldest rookie in the NHL, buddy."
Rising from the mat for round three, Tommy Frew is about to make a comeback.
Tommy could never help but feel he wasn't practicing what he preached to the students, and the "do as I say, not as I do" mentality never worked for him. With the support of his family, he's decided it's time he becomes a better role model for the kids he speaks with all year by chasing the personal dream he's always had.
As his interest swelled, sports performance expert Dr. Mark Scappaticci took notice, and led Frew to Dave Cruikshank of MLX skates (Mario Lemieux's company) where all the magic started to happen.
You can't overstate the difficulties Frew endured trying to get a company to build him custom skates – it was over a year-long process. Yet once MLX stepped in and took the reins, he got back in the rinks, and has been impressing on a daily basis.
He's always been a skater, but when Jared Aulin (a pro for several years at the AHL and NHL levels) stops you to figure out just which team you play for, you know you've still got it (incidentally, Jared wrote a touching email about how inspiring he found both Frew's passion for the game and his comeback attempt).
Strong and fast, Tommy is a free agent, and ready to make serious contributions to whoever gives him that first shot.
When I asked him to describe where he saw himself in the first year of his comeback, he's honest with himself. But at the same time, he seems to know where he fits in.
"I can skate, and it starts there. It was the biggest thing my Dad preached to me growing up, and it's something I've never stopped working at. I've got the hands necessary to be a top-six guy – all I'm looking for is the ECHL tryout necessary to prove what I can do."
That's the goal for now, but he makes it very clear he seriously wants to make a push for the NHL in the years to come.
In his recent commitment to proving to himself, his students, and his family that he's got what it takes, Frew envisions some mythical Russian kid working hard in some arena halfway across the world. He knows he's going to have to outwork each and every player that's trying to make the same team as him. The hard work part won't be a problem.
Tommy finally has the custom wheels needed to blow past his competitors, and that's not something Frew intends to put to waste.
The years of illness took away his opportunity to reach his dreams in round one, and bad luck took him down in round two.
But stable, healthy and happy, Frew has risen from the mat for round three. And if I had to guess, I bet he knocks some scouts out.
The guy is a hockey player.
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|Last Updated on Monday, 28 March 2011 08:03|