Jermaine Loewen’s professional hockey career came to a screeching halt in March, a rookie campaign pre-empted by the pandemic.
At the same time, Black Lives Matter protests and social justice movements were captivating the public eye and the attention of Loewen, a Jamaican-born orphan who was adopted at age three and moved to Canada when he was five.
In a time rife with uncertainty, at least one thing was clear — it was time to write a book.
NHLPA agent Ray Petkau, a father of four and CEO of Alpha Hockey Inc., approached author/illustrator Thom van Dycke last spring with an idea for a series of hockey-themed children’s books.
Ari The Lion Books is the result of the partnership.
Loewen, the former Kamloops Blazers’ captain who is represented by Petkau, jumped on board in the summer to co-author the debut offering, Ari’s Awful Day/Mainer’s Move, which consists of two stories that start on opposite sides of the book and meet in the middle.
“We switched up the whole book, changed the way it was written because of all the things happening with BLM,” Loewen said. “People were talking about it, but it felt like we needed to do something that was tangible.
“Having a book for kids, it starts them when they’re young and they learn these habits and develop them as they get older. You can talk about it, but what are you going to do when you’re done talking?”
Mainer, one of the book’s main characters, is based on Loewen, a black bear who has moved into a new area and joins a hockey team that includes Ari, the series’ titular character who “is a little brat you feel like smacking,” Petkau said. “But he’ll grow through the series.
“You physically flip the book over once you get to the middle and read the other [character’s] perspective. That was Thom’s idea, which I think is brilliant.”
The book, written for students in Kindergarten through Grade 2, explores several key themes, including kindness, being the new kid, making friends, accepting others and racial differences.
“Thom and I are both white men living in the centre of Canada,” Petkau said. “We haven’t faced racism. Jermaine has.”
Fitting in at school and on the ice in Arborg, Man., was never easy and racial discrimination did not stop when Loewen reached the WHL in Kamloops.
“I’m not saying I was treated very, very crappy, but there were times in my life I was discriminated against,” said Loewen, who was a hit with kids when he visited schools in Kamloops. “This is not about screaming, ‘Oh, poor me.’ It’s about overcoming those things.
“How does the black bear overcome the things he went through?”
In the end, it is Mainer who offers an olive branch to Ari.
“I wasn’t sure about that, at first,” Petkau said. “Do we want to have the person who was wronged be the one to have to reach out? But that’s just Jermaine and how he’s lived his life.
“We made sure to keep him in character. That’s real. That’s the way he is. He’s just a remarkable young man.”
Loewen said Ari’s creators are not out to get rich and Petkau noted children’s books are not usually cash cows unless your last name is Munsch.
“It will help teach kids,” Petkau said, noting he expects the series to feature at least three books. “That’s our goal. We wanted to tackle things like racism.”
The book series website, arithelion.com, includes resources for parents and teachers, along with activities for kids, who can sign up for Ari’s Kindess Club.
Club subscribers (there is no cost to join) receive a membership card, a gift in the mail (Petkau mentioned stickers) and emails that will include kindness challenges and colouring pages.
Petkau said Mainer’s character may show up again in the Ari series.
Loewen will be ready to contribute.
“There are other kids out there that go through school and get bullied,” Loewen said.
“Having a story like this, even when I’m done hockey, is something I can talk to kids about and be an encouragement for them.”
Loewen last toiled for the Blazers in 2018-2019.
He said his first pro season was a learning year, a 2019-2020 campaign split between the Chicago Wolves in the AHL and Fort Wayne Komets in the ECHL.
“I kind of had to go through the muck and the grind and the adversity to figure out it’s definitely a different game,” said Loewen, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound forward. “A lot of growth, a lot of learning.”
Loewen, who was picked by the Dallas Stars in Round 7 of the 2018 NHL Draft, is expecting to play this season for the Henderson Silver Knights, the AHL affiliate of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights.
His pro contract is set to expire following the 2020-2021 season. The AHL has been postponed until Feb. 5 because of the pandemic.
“It’s a big year for me as far as my development goes and I have to get another contract after this year,” Loewen said. “I’m putting in lots of extra time and work because I feel like I can do it.
“I’m still preparing for February.”
Loewen remains close with his billet parents from his Blazers’ days, Kelly and Brenda Thomson, with whom he spent Christmas in Kamloops.
“They treated me well,” he said. “I know I can crash there.”