About a month ago, we brought you the story of Tommy Frew, an incredible man embarking on an incredible journey to become the oldest rookie in the NHL. While many people have rallied behind Tommy after reading the articles published on his story [Bourne’s Blog, Welland Tribune], he recently put together a video showcasing his skills (below) – and the responses of those who’ve seen it have been nothing short of rave. We had an opportunity to talk to Tommy about his comeback, his expectations, MLX skates, and even Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau.
– Now that the story of your comeback has been circulating for a little while and your skills video has been on YouTube, what has life been like?
Over the past four year, as a supply [substitute] teacher picking up days here and there at Lakeshore Catholic High School in Port Colborne, Ontario. It’s funny now, when I’m in the schools and the kids want to hear about my story or about my progress, they’re so excited about what I’m doing and I love them for it. It’s so amazing to me how so many people have reached out and offered support to me. I get emails, text messages, Facebook messages or wall posts from students, friends, even people that I don’t even know offering their support and thoughts. The Staff at the Niagara Catholic District School Board has been incredible to me as well. One of the most amazing parts of this journey for me has been the people that I’ve met along the way. The kindness I’ve seen in the hearts of others. At times, it’s overwhelming to think that so many people are pulling for me… and this was all before most of them had even seen me on the ice. The reviews of my skills video have been pretty positive.
– The music playing during your skills video definitely sends a message. Was Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” your choice?
Yes. That song speaks to me. It’s what I’m about and what I’m going through. Even just the into “If you had one shot, one opportunity – to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment. Would you capture it? Or just let it slip?” I’m trying to chase down a dream, and this is my shot, my opportunity. I’m doing everything I can to achieve my goal, and this song speaks to that. It’s almost like my soundtrack.
–What type of role do you envision yourself filling on a team?
Any role. I’ve always been a top six guy, but every team already has their top 6 guys. I want to fill any role that would help whatever team I end up with succeed. One of my greatest assets is my skating ability, so if a coach wants me to grind on the 4th line, I’ll be happy to do it. If he envisions me on the Penalty Kill or the Power Play, I’ll do it. My goal to come back to professional hockey is just that. I want to come back to the game and contribute in any way I can. If I can help out on the ice as a player or off the ice as a leadership or teamwork kind of guy, I’ll do it. I’ll do whatever it takes.
–Are you happy with your stride and footwork now that you have the right skates?
Skating has always been one of my greatest strengths. Gary Reeves was the power skating teacher at Bruce Boudreau’s Golden Horseshoe Hockey School. I learned so much from both Gary and Bruce. My dad used to come and watch, and he’d always ask Bruce if there was anything I could do to be better. Bruce told my dad that I was doing great. So great, in fact, that he invited me to come and help teach power skating at Bruce’s school. Bruce was fantastic to me. He picked me up and gave me a ride to the rink every day. He’s so knowledgeable about the game, that just by keeping an ear out, you can learn so much. He’s been an inspiration to me ever since. To see where he is now… he just absolutely deserves it. He was always such an easy going and humble guy. I also remember that he loved his hot dogs. I remember him saying “I just love the pure taste of a hot dog. I don’t need anything on it.”
Back to my skating though, normally I have a very long stride when I skate, but that’s something I couldn’t showcase in my video. With the skills I was displaying there, the moves required quicker shorter steps. But yes, the skates make all the difference. It took me about 7 or 8 years to get skates that allowed me to do what I knew I could do on the ice. In other skates I was missing my outside edge when I’d go to cross over. It was frustrating because I knew that I was capable of doing certain things, and with skates that just weren’t right, I couldn’t do any of them.
Then, Dr. Mark Scappaticci introduced me to Dave Cruikshank of MLX (backed by Hockey Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux), and my outlook on skates had changed completely. Dave was a 4 time Olympic speed skater; he was a skating instructor for the Blackhawks, and when I first saw him skate I knew that I could definitely learn something from him, even at 36 years old. When I told him what my problems were with other skates I had tried, he echoed my frustrations. He was frustrated with the way hockey skates were made and how players couldn’t do what they wanted because of the fit. With his experience and background in skating, he brought a new attitude to skate design. MLX is “for skaters, by skaters,” and you know that the minute you start working with them. They have a pro school, they teach MLX Hybrid Skating – all the mechanics, all the things Dave learned as a speed skater he takes and tailors them to make them work in a hockey sense. MLX skates reflect that. The skates actually flex – when you bend your leg forward, the skate physically bends with it. That’s just one of those little things that makes a world of difference to a player. They’ll make custom skates and take a mold of your foot, or you can buy skates right out of the box that even have a custom approach. You heat them up and it almost turns to putty that molds to your foot. MLX is really taking a new approach, the right approach for people like me, who have weird feet and can’t use the “one-size-fits-most” approach with other brands of skates. Best of all, they treated me like I was an NHL All-Star. So this video that you’re seeing, it’s 8 or 9 years in the making. It’s taken me that long to find skates that I can perform in. I believe in what they’re doing, and I’ll continue to purchase their products to do my part to keep them in business.
–Is it difficult to showcase your full abilities without getting a try-out and skating with and against players of that level? What could you show with a try out you couldn’t show in a video?
You can see that I can dot my i’s and cross my t’s. I can stand on my blades without falling over. Haha. Reading a game, my vision of the ice, interacting with other players, my mentality, reading plays, reading defense – those things are always a question mark – I can’t show what I can do in that sense until I’m out there with a team. I believe that when you have the skills and can skate you’re so much more versatile. It’s easier to get someone to adapt to a new style or system than it is to teach a 36 year old how to skate. I can skate, I have that going for me, and that’s what I want people to see.
–There are 42 skaters and another 8 goaltenders age 36+ in the NHL. Since you haven’t been subjected to the same wear-and-tear that many of them have, do you think you would have an advantage over other players your age?
Yeah. For sure. The wear and tear on a player is brutal. What they endure in just one season is amazing. I’ve been training and working for the past 10 years without getting banged around. But it’s not only that. I’m coming back to play because I can and want to. Not because I have to. A lot of players stay in hockey because that’s all they know. I have other career and job options, and I know that. This is a drive I have. There’s no complacency. So it’s not just that I’m physically prepared. I’m also mentally prepared. I think you should do your best in absolutely everything that you do, there’s a lot of pressure and lot of eyes on me, but I have nothing to lose. I’m doing this because I want to. There’s a big difference between someone that wants to and someone that has to. The ups and downs in my life have made me a better hockey player. I’ve seen and felt failure and I know the value of hard work. I’ve overcome so much in so many other aspects of my life that mentally, I’d like to think I’m pretty tough. So yeah, I think I may have an edge, but it’s not just a physical edge.