Stevenson Will Try to Add Punch to Lineup

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Todd Ewen drew back his fist in front of Jeremy Stevenson's face after the Mighty Ducks' practice Tuesday, and Stevenson beamed.

Then Ewen showed him how to avoid a punch, duck under an arm and try to take a fighter off his skates.

Stevenson's smile never faded. He was getting his first NHL fighting lesson, just in time to fill in for Ewen during the veteran tough guy's two-game suspension, which begins tonight against Colorado.

Ewen's suspension is an automatic penalty for players who amass another game-misconduct penalty after serving an initial one-game suspension for reaching the limit of three.

At only 21, and without a game of NHL experience, Stevenson isn't expected to wreak the sort of havoc Ewen does. But the Ducks, who were pushed around a bit when Ewen was out with injuries earlier this season, need somebody to stand their ground if Colorado tries to make it a bruising game. "Team toughness" is one answer. Stevenson is the other.

"The most important thing is not to hurt the team," Ewen said. "[Challengers] will come to him. It might come or might not, but there's no sense in going out looking for it."

Stevenson, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound left winger, was an enforcer at Baltimore of the American Hockey League, piling up 225 penalty minutes, nine goals and nine assists in 49 games. But in the NHL, he learned from Ewen, the players who fight are "bigger, stronger and smarter."

"Colorado, they have a lot of tough guys," Stevenson said. "I'm taking Todd Ewen's spot for two games, and he's one of the toughest if not the toughest guy in the league. I'll try to fill in. Guys will probably try to intimidate me. You've got to go in expecting the worst."

Stevenson already has learned his lesson about suspensions, serving one himself in January after coming off the bench to join a fight against Worcester of the AHL.

"I learned the hard way," Stevenson said. "Unfortunately, I had a six-game suspension for leaving the bench. It was J.F. [Jomphe], who got hit from behind and was speared by the other team's tough guy. J.F. was our leading goal-scorer, and you don't want him going out."

Stevenson is something of an oddity in the NHL--a California native. He was born in San Bernardino but grew up in Canada.

"My dad went on a little traveling trip and met my mom, and then we went back to Canada after a year or so," he said.

It hasn't been a straight line to the NHL either. He was originally drafted by Winnipeg, but never signed, and when he reentered the draft, the Ducks picked him in the final round in 1994.

"Eleventh round," he said. "This means the world. I've had a smile on my face since I heard that I was coming. I think I slept with a smile on my face last night."

Ewen isn't sleeping as easily. He has missed 24 games this season, mostly because of his November hand surgery, but will have missed three games without pay because of suspensions. Should he get another game-misconduct penalty in the final 13 games, his next suspension will be three more games, and he is more aware than anyone how much the Ducks need him down the stretch.

Besides that, there's the lost pay. Ewen hopes he can at least claim the fines on his taxes as unreimbursed business expenses.

"We're talking serious money now. I think it's about $12,000," he said. "I might have to say I took the league out to lunch--the whole league, for that matter.

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