Former NHL enforcer killed by a self-inflicted gunshot wound
By Alex Stanton, Staff Writer
Todd Ewen, former NHL tough guy who racked up nearly 1200 penalty minutes in a career spanning 11 years and four clubs, became the latest in a series of hockey enforcers who’ve died prematurely over the course of the past few years. He died in Wildwood, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, only 49 years old.
After his family revealed that the self-described “goon” had been suffering from depression for years, questions were once again raised by critics and advocates about the connection between fighting in the NHL and degenerative brain diseases. According to St. Louis County Police Sergeant Brian Schellman, Ewen’s death involved no foul play; he is reported to have died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The career of “The Animal,” a Canadian who called Saskatoon his hometown, began in 1984 (following his stint in the WHL in 1982 in British Columbia) as the 168th pick in the eighth round draft by the Edmonton Oilers. He didn’t play his first league game until the 1986–87 season when he was traded to the St. Louis Blues, the club he would spend the next four years with. Proving himself as a capable fighter in his early years, he spent the ’90s amassing penalty minutes with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, the San Jose Sharks, and the Montreal Canadiens. He ended up playing four seasons with Montreal, the very last being the 1992–93 season in which the Canadiens snatched the Stanley Cup from the Los Angeles Kings—the last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup.
He played 518 games during the NHL regular season, retiring with over 1,911 minutes—or roughly 30 hours—spent in the penalty box in total. He has the 58th highest number of penalty minutes in the history of the NHL.
Ewen, whose depression may have come about due to the degenerative brain disease CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), is being sought for scientific purposes by the medical community, including renowned Toronto neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Tator, who sent a letter to the Ewen family requesting that they donate Todd’s brain for research purposes. Dr. Tator has been researching long-term head injuries in sports following the 2011 suicides of three NHL enforcers, including former Vancouver Canuck Rick Rypien.
In February of this year, Steve Montador, another former NHL-er with a decade long career, died in his Mississauga, Ontario home at the age of 35. Born and raised in Vancouver, he was found to have accidentally overdosed on a combination of prescription painkillers and alcohol. This event yet again sparked discourse concerning player safety, and was also the catalyst for 10 NHL players suing the league for ignoring the evidence of correlation between degenerative brain diseases and repeated concussions over a long period of time.