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Loewen behold — Jamaican-born hockey player has eyes on NHL
Jermaine Loewen was one of more than 50,000 orphans in Jamaica.
Now he wants to be the second person born in the Caribbean island nation to play in the National Hockey League.
“I always thought maybe I’d be some guy living in the streets,” said Jermaine, one of the Kamloops Blazers’ most tantalizing prospects, drafted in Round 3 of the Western Hockey League bantam draft in May.
“All of a sudden, I find myself playing hockey at 10 and playing triple A at 11 or 12. People didn’t think that was really possible.
“I was like, ‘If you don’t think it’s possible, I’m going to prove it to you.’”
The 15-year-old’s journey to Arborg, Man., from an orphanage in May Pen, Jamaica, began 12 years ago.
Stan and Tara Loewen travelled to the children’s home on a two-week Christian mission trip with no intention of adopting.
Before they left Canada, the couple looked at photos.
“Stan pointed to this one picture of this little guy wearing a Chicago shirt and said, ‘I want to bring that one home,’ and we laughed,” Tara said.
“Beside his picture, it said: ‘Needs a lot of attention.’”
For all they knew, these were stock photos — “Those ones used by Compassion Canada or World Vision,” Tara said — and the children could have been from any number of places.
On Day 1 of the trip, they pulled into the orphanage and their car was instantly surrounded by a group of children, one of them more familiar-looking than the others.
“I said, ‘Hey Stan, look who’s here,’ and it was Jermaine,” Tara said.
“Throughout the week, we were just drawn to him and we realized this kid does not belong here. He needs a family.
“We went to the local social services and they said, ‘Out of the 18 kids here, he’s the only one available [for adoption].
“Twenty-one months later, he was home.”
Jermaine was three when the Loewens claimed him as their own.
He was five when he landed in the Great White North.
The nearly two-year waiting period was agonizingly long.
“You’ve seen the children’s home that they live in,” Stan said.
“No matter how good an orphanage is, it’s never a family.
“It’s hard for two years knowing every night he’s going to bed and no one’s tucking him in.
“It’s hard knowing he’s growing up without you.”
Since adopting Jermaine, the Loewens have expanded by two — welcoming a sister, six-year old Makeda from Ethiopia, and a brother, four-year-old Nathanael from Jamaica.
The Loewen clan, with two white parents and three black children, stands out in rural Manitoba.
“Quite honestly, we don’t even think about it,” Tara said.
“We’re used to a lot of looks when we go out for dinner but, in our small town of about a thousand people, everybody knows who we are.
“People have been super accepting. He’s been completely embraced by our community.”
Jermaine, born in Mandeville, Jamaica, said it took some adjusting to get used to life on the prairie.
“You do get a little bit intimated,” he said. “Where I come from, there was not very many white people. You’re kind of like, ‘Oh, I wish there was more black people.’ You always say that, but I love the people that I live with.
“Skin doesn’t matter. It’s the heart that always matters.”
Heart is something Jermaine has in abundance.
He’s progressed from skating like a baby calf, according to his mother, to vying for a spot on the Blazers’ roster.
He feels strong ties to his place of birth and the blossoming prospect wants to set an example for his orphaned countrymen.
“There’s a lot of people that need help in Jamaica,” Jermaine said.
“Maybe I’ll make it in sports and show people that you can make it in something if you put your heart and soul into it.”
Kamloops head coach Dave Hunchak said Jermaine’s desire to succeed shone through at training camp.
The six-foot-two, 175-pound forward was cut and sent back to Manitoba, but not before making a lasting impression.
“He comes from a background that’s maybe not a traditional hockey background, but he loves to play the game and he’s a sponge,” Hunchak said.
“There’s an athletic side. There’s a compete side. At the end of the day, he’s going to be a big, strong power forward that’s going to be scary to play against.”
No one can know his upside just yet, with Jermaine having played only five years of organized hockey — that’s a half-decade less time on the ice than most of the other 15-year-old Blazer prospects.
“In the end, I’m going to get past some of those kids who maybe have more talent,” Jermaine said.
“I always work hard and I always believe in myself. I don’t mope.
“It comes from my faith. I have a good faith connection.”
That Jermaine is a Loewen is no accident, his parents say.
“His story is kind of one miracle after another,” Tara said.
“We feel very led to him as a son. He’s been such a total blessing to our family.
“It’s especially surreal when I think this spring we were back in Jamaica spending time with some of the kids he grew up with and it’s amazing and miraculous and, at the same time, it’s sobering.
“I know that there are kids out there with the same type of potential and joy that Jermaine has — and they’re stuck there.”
Stan is wary of using terms like “Act of God” and “divine intervention,” but those do accurately describe the way he feels about Jermaine’s journey to the family.
“We were told there was only one kid available in that children’s home for adoption and we said, ‘Let’s find out if that’s Jermaine,’” Stan said.
“It was Jermaine. One in 18.
“I could spend a few hours telling you interesting stories about how one door opened, after another, after another.
“It really felt divine, if you want to use the word.”
Whether the big man upstairs had anything to do with it is still up for debate.
The brain trust upstairs in the press box at Interior Savings Centre liked what they saw at training camp — that much is for sure.
Graeme Townshend was the first and only Jamaican-born player to lace up his skates in the NHL.
Jermaine will need a lot of attention, as the sign next to his orphanage photo indicated, but he might just have the heart to follow in Townshend’s footsteps to The Show.
“I was telling my parents I want to make this a reality,” Jermaine said.
“Getting drafted, you don’t know what’s ahead.
“Now that I’m here, it’s like you get a little taste of what the WHL is and you want to be here.
“I really want to play in The Dub.
“I want to play in front of a lot of people in Kamloops.
“I want to make the NHL.”
Click here to hear the CBC Radio Kamloops version of Loewen’s story.