Jermaine Loewen made history when he became the first Jamaica-born player to be drafted by an NHL team. The Dallas Stars chose him in the seventh round (No. 199) of the 2018 NHL Draft.
The 22-year-old left wing recently added another first to his budding career as co-author of an illustrated children’s hockey book that deals with race, diversity and inclusion while underscoring the value of kindness.
“Ari’s Awful Day/Mainer’s Move” is a story written from the different perspectives of the two main characters and shows how they overcome prejudicial stereotypes to literally meet in the middle of the book and become friends.
“I never thought I’d be co-author of a book at 22,” said Loewen, now a prospect in the Vegas Golden Knights system. “It was a really big honor for me to be part of a project like this.”
The book, co-authored and illustrated by Thom Van Dycke, is the brainchild of Ray Petkau, a father of four, CEO of Alpha Hockey Inc., and Loewen’s agent.
Petkau began thinking last year that there should be a book aimed toward students in kindergarten through second grade that addresses race and differences in a way that they could understand. But he felt that as a white Canadian who hasn’t directly experienced racism, he was the wrong person to deliver the message.
“I know that I couldn’t do the subject justice, but I still wanted to tackle it,” he said. “To do that properly, you need to have the right voices, you need to have the right people who have experienced it. Jermaine has.”
Jermaine Loewen with co-author Thom Van Dycke, left, and his agent, Ray Petkau.
He reached out to Loewen, who immediately immersed himself into the project with Van Dycke during the summer.
“We couldn’t have done the story without Jermaine,” Van Dycke said. “We actually had a storyline that we were developing that was different than the one that got published. In summer, when all the race tension was hitting the States and we were hearing about it, we said, ‘How can we teach a very young child to understand kindness in terms of race and differences?’ And we knew that we would not be able to capture that voice adequately. Jermaine was absolutely integral to the storyline.”
Mainer, a black bear in the book, is loosely based on Loewen’s experiences growing up as one of the few Black hockey players and visible minorities in his adopted Manitoba town.
“It’s not easy being the new kid. Especially when you’re a bear,” Mainer says in the book. “For some reason we always live in towns where I’m the only bear!”
In the book, Mainer encounters Ari, a prideful young lion packed with preconceived notions about the bear who joins his hockey team of other animals. Petkau calls Ari “a little brat you feel like smacking” early in the book.
“I’m pretty sure not ALL bears are bad news, but I could tell this kid was bad,” Ari said in the book. “He was big and hairy and downright scary looking.”
Loewen was one of the feel-good stories of the 2018 draft. He lived in an orphanage in Mandeville, Jamaica, until he was adopted by a white couple in Arborg, Manitoba, when he was 5 years old. Loewen put on his first pair of skates at age 6 — late by Canadian standards — and didn’t play organized hockey until he was 10.
However, he progressed enough that Kamloops of the Western Hockey League, drafted him six years later. Loewen established himself as leader on the score sheet and in the locker room.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound forward led Kamloops in scoring in 2017-18 with 64 points (36 goals, 28 assists) in 66 games and became team captain the following season. Loewen finished his WHL career with 142 points (78 goals, 64 assists) in 295 games.
He said he faced his share of discrimination on and off the ice while growing up.
“It wasn’t straight blunt, but it’s a pretty glaring thing that happens a lot to Black hockey players and other minorities,” he said. “Those things sometimes wear on you but, really, it’s about knowing who you are and it took me a long time and I’m still on that journey of knowing who I am as a hockey player and as a brother.”
Loewen said it wasn’t easy sharing some of his experiences for the book, but that he felt it was important to do it to help people get a grip on racism.
“It’s definitely not easy to put yourself out there and share those things,” he said. “But I think in this world, if you live something like that and don’t put it out there then you’re wasting some of your potential as a human being. I’m at the place, maturity-wise, that I can handle it. Putting yourself out there can put yourself in vulnerable positions. But it’s also a good thing because it shows a lot of strength. People are opening up about what they’ve gone through and that creates a lot of healing for young kids.”
“Ari’s Awful Day/Mainer’s Move” is the first in a series of books that will feature NHL players and address issue like bullying. The book has an accompanying website, arithelion.com, that has resources for parents and teachers and activities for kids, who can also sign up for Ari’s Kindness Club.
“It isn’t just putting a book out there and riding off into the sunset,” Petkau said. “It’s an ongoing effort to spread a positive message among children.”
Meanwhile, Loewen is working on the next chapter of his hockey career. He’s expecting to play in the final year of his rookie contract for the Golden Knights’ American Hockey League affiliate in Henderson, Nevada, where former NHL player Joel Ward will begin his first season as a coach.
The two first met in 2016 when Loewen attended a San Jose Sharks development camp and Ward played for the team. They kept in touch via text messaging.
Loewen spent 2019-20, his first professional season, playing 31 games for Chicago of the AHL, which was the Golden Knights farm team, and 19 games for Fort Wayne of the ECHL. He scored six points (three goals, two assists) between the two teams.
He’s hoping that working with Ward, who went from being an undrafted Canadian collegiate player to score 304 points (133 goals, 171 assists) in 726 games for the Sharks, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals, will help his development.
“It’s going to be awesome to see Joel and to be able to work with him, get that extra work on the ice and just learn what it takes to be solidified in the [AHL] and then try to push myself past that,” Loewen said. “My end goal isn’t to stop at the ‘A.’ My end goal is to be in the NHL in a few years.”
If that happens, Loewen would be the NHL’s second Jamaican-born player, following forward Graeme Townshend, who played 45 games for the Boston Bruins, New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators from 1990-93.