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  • Frew's story in hockey isn't over yet Print
    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.

    Justin Bourne

    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 Frew is a hockey player. Technically he's a teacher – a 36-year old high school teacher – but somewhere on his list, not too far behind "family man," is "hockey player."

    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.

    Tommy could never help but feel he wasn't practicing what he preached to the students. The 'do as I say, not as I do' mentality never worked for him.

    It started in the arenas, when he resumed playing recreationally. People couldn't help but notice he was still pretty darn good. Why did you stop playing again?

    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.

    Photos courtesy of Tommy Frew

    Comments (30)

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    Keep us posted
    I'd love to follow this story! Sometimes finding news on minor league tryouts is complicated though, keep us posted!
    Deirdre , October 06, 2010
    Great read!
    Great profile, Justin! I hope Tommy can make his dream come true, and I hope I get to watch him do it!
    Scott , October 06, 2010
    Thanks, I'll do my best to stay up on the story and keep everyone informed.
    Justin Bourne , October 06, 2010
    Touching story.

    Why not try a backdoor route to 'AA' and play for an AAHL team?
    awassers , October 06, 2010
    Great read Bourne, what a cool story.
    Neil , October 07, 2010
    Wow, great story! I'd love to see him get a shot in the NHL one day!
    Jeff , October 07, 2010
    Great read.
    I asked this via twitter, but that part in the middle about about MLX: why does Frew need custom skates built for him? Why did MLX have to "step in to take over the reigns"? And the sports performance expert; did these people sponsor him i.e pay his bills so he could focus on hockey?
    Like I said, nice article, but those two 'graphs broke my brain a little.
    Graeme , October 07, 2010
    Tommy can!!!
    If anyone can do it, Tommy can. I have seen him around students and other teachers. He is an inspriation to those who feel they are too old or time has passed them by. In life you have to take risks, and Tommy is showing us how to wallk the talk. Good luck Tom, go get em !!!
    Dino Germano , October 08, 2010
    I know a player when I see one
    My name is Chris Belanger. I have played over 13 years of professional hockey all over the world. Thankfully I have played in over 100 games for Team Canada including 6 consecutive Spengler Cups. I was with Tommy in Austria and knew he could play then! I trained 2 summers ago with him day in and day out. Passion, drive, skills, is just the tip of what mr friend Tommy brings to his teammates, coachs, management and fans. If he gets the right coach that believes in him, he will turn a lot of heads. I am already a believer in him. 77
    Chris Belanger , October 08, 2010
    Tommy can do it!!!!
    I have had the priviledge of teaching with Tommy Frew. Tommy Frew is one of the humblest people I know with a srong moral charcter. He is a dedicated teacher who is admired by both staff and students. You can't help but being motivated by "Frew Frew"! His enthusiam for life is contagious! We in the Niagara area are so proud of him for going after his dream and send our best wishes to him and to his family for being so supportive. I know nothing about hockey, but I am now becoming a fan -GO FREW FREW, GO!
    Sue Ashwood , October 09, 2010
    Modern day Rudy story!
    Considering the phenominal shape Frew keeps himself in, age is not even an issue. However, it is his age that makes this so special. People too often give up on their dreams due to nay sayers, injuries, life circumstances, etc; only to regret it later in life.
    Tommy Frew is not one of those people!
    Thanks for showing us not to give up on our dreams Frew.
    Matt Gordon , October 09, 2010
    I know that Tommy is driven and dedicated in whatever he chooses to do. Tommy has a passion for the game and I look forward to the day I get to see his name on the back of an NHL jersey.

    Mark Kobylka , October 10, 2010
    I have known Tommy for the past two years and his drive and passion for life and personal fitness is impressive. He is an excellent role model for all ages. I know from personal experience that each and every point in a person's life is unique and "age is but a point in time". Tommy I wish you all my best in your endeavour to live your dream.
    Michael J. Robinson , October 11, 2010
    Had the priviledge of watching Tommy play this past summer @ The Four Pad in St.Catharines. His skating, play making ability & skills are like no other. Oldest Rookie in the N.H.L. without a doubt.
    Salvatore De Luca , October 11, 2010
    Tom the Bomb...
    My name is Mike Braithwaite. I met Tommy when things first took a tough turn after his bout with Epstein Barr. He didn't complain, he didn't cry about what could have been. He did what he's always done, make it happen. I didn't even know he was that talented, because the last thing Tommy does is talk about himself and his talents.
    I've seen him accomplish so many things in his life that people doubted he couldn't, but he did. Sheer determination is the reason why.
    My wife, who doesn't follow hockey, asked me the other day if I truly thought Tommy could make the NHL. My answer is "yes". If it was anyone but Tommy, my answer would be different, but Tommy will make it happen.
    Great article! I'm ready to buy ringside season tickets for when Tom the Bomb comes home to the NHL!
    Mike "Drake" Braithwaite , October 11, 2010
    Amazing, Inspiring Story!!
    I don't play hockey or follow hockey but I can't wait until I see Tommy play. He deserves the opportunity to achieve his dream. His story is an inspiration for all the people, especially children who think things are impossible and stop believing in themselves. Tommy's vision will become a reality, really soon, can't wait!
    Sylvia Braithwaite
    Sylvia Braithwaite , October 11, 2010
    To some people, putting the dream on ice means putting it on hold. Seems like this guy exemplifies the Canadian passion for the sport, keeping the dream alive through perseverence. Good like to Mr. Frew...somewhere there's another bad Leaf team that could use someone with heart!!
    Rocky , October 12, 2010
    Keep the dream alive Tommy! We are very proud of you and know how hard you have worked
    If anyone can claw their way back to pro hockey it's you! Good luck
    Naeem and zia , October 12, 2010
    Frew would not become the NHL's oldest rookie.

    Latvian-Soviet legend Helmuts Balderis originally retired in 1985, aged 33, but five years later was drafted by the North Stars and played 26 games for them during 1989/90.
    nanana , October 13, 2010
    Best of luck to you, Tommy! You are a great role model for kids everywhere!

    Well written JB. You excel at telling these life stories...whether it's your own or someone else's. I know nothing of Tommy Frew other than what's in this article, but I am cheering for him and want him to succeed.
    Minnesotagirl71 , October 13, 2010
    Great Story!
    I do not personally know Tommy.

    But the article was really well written and I would pay to go see him playing professional!

    Best of luck in your journey,
    Michael Durham , October 13, 2010
    To the comment above when you stated where Helmuts Balderis was the oldest rookie, I would need to correct you.. Balderis also played multiple pro seasons with the national team therefore already making him a non-rookie..

    The truly oldest *NHL* rookie is Bob Barlow at 34 years of age.. Tommy is 36 and has been compared to ALL of the 'greats' in hockey. There is no doubt when he does go to the NHL he WILL put on a show and lite it up.
    Fred Wilbert , October 13, 2010
    I'm a good friend of Tommy's & know first hand the struggle he has faced. Tommy has a unique gift to offer the world not only his incredible passion & talent for the game but his charasmatic gift of teaching both in & out of the classroom. Tommy's Determination & Drive is Inspiration to us all to NEVER QUIT, BELIEVE IN YOURSELF & FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS.
    Paul Cuda , October 16, 2010
    Good for you Tom!!!
    Glad to see Tom Frew is doing what he's doing. I went to high school with Tom, played euchre with him during lunch. I always knew he was a competitor. I hope you make it buddy! I'll be watching for you and cheering you on! Best wishes and good luck!
    Brad Hope , January 04, 2011
    Tommy Frew is a true competitor, and what he states in this article is 100%, a student he has taught some lessons that are inspiring to live the dream.

    I'll be watching for you and cheering you on! Best wishes and good luck!
    Cam , February 01, 2011
    he is a cool inspiring person, he just taught me at school today
    fraser , May 31, 2011
    Any update on this great story?
    It has been over a year now and I'm sure a lot of people out there, myself included, are interested to see where Tommy is now. I've tried looking on the web (hockeydb, google, etc.) but haven't had much luck.
    Patrick , December 06, 2011
    up date
    Tommy played in New Zealand last summer in Canada Vs USA tournament with other professional hockey players from North America. He continues to train, teach and continues to try and live his dream...more to come
    Jenny Schiffl , May 01, 2012
    He was my teacher
    Mr.Frew, You're the most funnest and inspirational teacher i had /. thanks
    Chris , May 15, 2012
    Summer Gym
    Wow i cannot believe that my Summer gym teacher is tommy frew! He just told us all today this story.
    Ben McLean , July 04, 2013

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    Last Updated on Monday, 28 March 2011 08:03