A Kid at Heart : Ducks' Enforcer Ewen Creates Children's Books

TIMES STAFF WRITER

These are the hands of an artist?

Swollen knuckles bulging above red, misshapen hands. Faint scars zigzagging. Permanent calluses.

These are the fists of a fighter.

"There are wires in here," Todd Ewen says. "This knuckle here comes out. These are calcium deposits caused by scar tissue. This was split open."

Beside him are the works of an artist--delicate, whimsical drawings in vibrant colors of Whisper the dragonfly and Hop the frog.

The fists of the fighter are the hands of the artist.

Ewen is one of the Mighty Ducks' enforcers, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound pugilistic right wing as at home in the penalty box as in his living room.

His hobby, though, is writing and illustrating children's books that he hopes to publish.

They are stories he reads to his children, Tyler, 4, and Chad, 1, and they are about tolerating differences in others and the virtues of practicing your craft and marching to the beat of your own drummer.

"Hop--a Frog Who Dared to Be Different," is dedicated to Tyler and Chad. Ewen penned this prologue:

"A story about a frog who has the courage to be different. And about his friends, a dragonfly who reminds us of the importance of sharing our thoughts and fears and a ruffian cat who shows us that we can learn to enjoy and have fun with boys and girls who are different from ourselves."

This tender, aesthetic bent in a fighter so brutish he was nicknamed "the Animal" when he was with the St. Louis Blues is invitation for ridicule, even among his own teammates.

Stu Grimson, a gentleman tough guy whose only canvas is other players' faces, bends his 6-foot-5 frame over to peek at the drawings.

"Hi, Hop! There's Hop!" he says.

Center Anatoli Semenov, whose English vocabulary is limited, stops to look and strikes a museum-goer's pose, finger held thoughtfully against chin. Then he points to Ewen's nameplate above his dressing-room stall and says, "Picasso. Should say Picasso."

Coach Ron Wilson stops by and picks up a drawing to inspect it.

"He should use his feet," Wilson suggests. "His feet are probably more nimble. Less concrete."

If teammates tease like this, what of opponents? Ewen laughed.

"Just like bumping around, somebody will say, 'Hey, why don't you go sit down and draw some cartoons?' " he said. "That's part of hockey. (Hartford's Pat) Verbeek, I think he's a third-generation pig farmer, so that doesn't come into play, ever . No one ever says anything about that ."

Ewen, 27, began working on the story several years ago when he was the road roommate of forward Ryan Walter with the Montreal Canadiens.

"We didn't go out a whole lot," Ewen said. "We were kind of moviegoers in the room. He had his computer there, and we just started working on things. It was a good influence. I think he has his religious books published by now."

When Ewen began reading to his oldest son, Tyler, he found that the stories sometimes lacked lessons.

"I look at today's society and you hear so many things about money, you hear so many things about, 'I was an abused this or that or the other,' " Ewen said. "There seem to be so many people looking for scapegoats, rather than just looking and saying there is no morality anymore.

"It may be overbearing of me to go out and push my morals, but I think I'm just in what I'm doing. If all you get is just enjoying the characters, that's fine. . . . But Hop is a little different character. He's not the same as everybody else. And I wanted to show that being different may set you away from your friends in the beginning, but in the end it will set you apart and they'll respect you."

Ewen's first attempts at writing a children's story showed him it was harder than it looked.

"Tyler would just turn the pages," Ewen said, finding that the attention span of a toddler didn't allow for waxing poetic. Revision by revision, he found the touch.

The central character, Hop, has his favorite toys--a drum, a musical top, a miniature xylophone and his cherished guitar.

Whenever Hop's friends would ask him to play with them, he would say, "I'm sorry guys, but I would just like to practice my guitar."

Brat the Cat thought baseball was more fun. "Boys are supposed to play baseball, not play silly guitars."

Hop was sad that Brat did not like his guitar. "Why shouldn't I do what I enjoy doing the most?" he asked himself. To avoid being teased, Hop would walk through the woods to a small pond and play his guitar.

Eventually, the others come to understand Hop and appreciate his talents. But for a time, Whisper the dragonfly and Toller the friendly dragon are his only real friends.

Hi there! My name is Toller and every day you make me so happy when you play your guitar. I think you're keen because you practice so hard and try over and over again until the sound is right. Will you be my friend?

Ewen's drawing skills are mostly self-taught, though he has taken a class or two. Each character has gone through revisions, and Ewen was heartsick recently when many of his final drawings were lost while they were being sent to a friend to be scanned by computer. To some extent, he is starting over.

"Hop, he's pretty well complete," Ewen said. "I like his bulges, his round lines. Whisper? I worked on him two or three months to where I thought he was animated enough to attract attention. It's not always the main characters that attract attention. Sometimes it's the others, like the supporting cast in a movie."

On the road, there's little time to work on the drawings, and Ewen was looking forward to redoing some of the lost ones during the NHL All-Star break.

"We play every second night, and with the travel, by the time you get home, the work would just be destroyed," he said.

He would like to see his book published, but wasn't seeking the help of his employer, the Walt Disney Co. However, Disney has called him and asked for a meeting.

Ewen is cautious.

"It depends on whether you would have control or not," he said. "If it's not going to be my book, why do it?"

Ewen has always gone his own way, once working as a roadie for a band and in a pit crew at a racetrack.

And even though he is known as a fighter and leads the Ducks with 182 penalty minutes, he is valuable in other ways. An assistant captain, he is one of the team leaders. And for all the talk about his fists, he has at times this season skated on the first line, showing skills that had been overlooked and scoring a career-high seven goals.

Still, even his younger brother, Dean, who signed last week with the Ducks and is at minor league San Diego, knows that Todd is unusual.

"He was always weird like that, a little artsy," Dean Ewen said, laughing. "He's an interesting individual."

Interesting, talented, sensitive, misunderstood. Hmmmm.

"Are you asking me if I'm Hop? Is that what you're asking me?" Todd said. "I don't think so. You see so many people that have--not a disability in the sense of a handicap, but who are outside the ordinary. Although I am--I feel I'm outside the ordinary for a hockey player. I've got this Jekyll-and-Hyde quality."

He gets no argument, and as he thumbs through his portfolio, Ewen pulls out another drawing with a look of faint puzzlement, then pride.

It is in crayon, a variation on the theme of a scribble.

"That's Tyler's," Ewen said. "That's one of my kids' contributions."

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