Shaun McEwen takes hockey travels in stride; Tri-City selects South Hadley native in USHL Draft

  • Shaun McEwen, of South Hadley, plays for the South Kent Selects this past season. McEwen was drafted by Tri-City in the third round of the USHL Futures Draft last week. COURTESY MCEWEN FAMILY

  • Shaun McEwen, of South Hadley, plays for the South Kent Selects this past season. McEwen was drafted by Tri-City in the third round of the USHL Futures Draft last week. COURTESY MCEWEN FAMILY

  • Shaun McEwen, of South Hadley, plays for the South Kent Selects this past season. McEwen is the grandson of former UMass hockey coach Toot Cahoon. COURTESY MCEWEN FAMILY

  • Shaun McEwen, of South Hadley, plays for the South Kent Selects this past season. McEwen was drafted by Tri-City in the third round of the USHL Futures Draft last week. COURTESY MCEWEN FAMILY

Sports Editor
Published: 5/11/2020 5:48:23 PM

The last few years have been a hockey whirlwind for Shaun McEwen.

The South Hadley native is only 16 years old, but the sport has taken him across the country and overseas, marking up his passport in ways unusual to most teenagers.

Such is life as a hockey player with big dreams of making it his living.

“Sometimes it’s hard to handle but sometimes you just have to take a deep breath,” McEwen said.

He came another step closer to his goal when he was selected in the third round of the United States Hockey League’s Futures Draft last week. The USHL is the top junior hockey league in the country.

The youngest of three children to Heidi and Brandon, McEwen has spent time at hockey rinks since the time he was born. The New Year’s Day baby was brought to local rinks following his brother Jason and within weeks he was attending UMass games at the Mullins Center, where his grandfather, Toot Cahoon, was leading the Minutemen as its head coach.

“He spent a lot of hours at the rink at UMass,” Heidi said. “Our oldest son is seven years older than him so he wanted to be like his big brother. We put him on the ice for the first time and he thought was just going to skate. He was so discouraged, big alligator tears. He wanted to go with Jay.”

McEwen comes from an athletic family. Cahoon played hockey for Boston University before embarking on a long coaching career that ended at UMass.

His mother was a swimmer while his father played football at Iona. Jason played hockey at Bowdoin before graduating in 2019. His sister Mikayla plays soccer and basketball at Mount Holyoke College.

“I feel like Shaun, being the youngest, watching his siblings work and workout, he took off at a younger age where he started working out more and doing at a lot more in fourth and fifth grade,” Brandon said.

The skating improved and so did the opportunities.

McEwen attended South Hadley public schools through eighth grade and played hockey locally during that time. He spent three years in the Pioneer Valley Youth Hockey Association mite division skating at Fitzpatrick Arena in Holyoke. He then sandwiched playing two seasons with the New England Junior Falcons around a year with the Springfield Rifles.

Some of McEwen’s most memorable hockey experiences growing up involved UMass hockey.

“I remember when I was really little they used to throw me in the dirty jerseys,” McEwen said. “I used to get to meet the players. I got dressed in the locker room. I feel like that’s something not every kid gets to go through. It was really special to me.”

Cahoon coached UMass from 2000-2012. By putting a left-handed stick in McEwen’s hands early, he was instrumental in guiding his grandson to being a defenseman.

“Often times a right-handed dominate person likes to have the top hand on the stick and so he has more ability to play with one hand on the stick if it’s their dominate hand,” Cahoon said. “That’s how that all came about and he took it from there.”

It was after his last season on the Falcons when the first big opportunity opened for McEwen. He was selected to play, along with a teammate on Team North American at the World Selects Invitational in Spain.

“That was my first time leaving the country and to go play the sport that I love overseas was really crazy to me,” McEwen said.

Playing for the North American team put McEwen in contact with Legacy Global Sports (LGS), which organizes and sponsors the World Selects Invitational. It also is connected with the Seacoast Spartans, which became McEwen’s next stop.

The LGS is affiliated with the Seacoast Performance Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire. After graduating from Michael E. Smith Middle School in South Hadley, McEwen spent his freshman year playing for the Spartans and taking online classes through the United States Performance Academy.

It became an adjustment but one McEwen learned to handle.

“At first it was a change and challenging. I had to adapt for my freshman year. I did online school and you had to be very responsible with your time,” McEwen said. “You don’t have the teacher tell you when to do your work. It’s mostly you have to learn what works for you and you have to find your own schedule.”

The 2019 World Selects Invitational was held in Philadelphia following McEwen’s freshman season at Seacoast. He played with Team North American again before moving on to the South Kent School in Connecticut.

There he played for the South Kent Selects Academy Under-15 team, which is affiliated with LGS. It became the third different team in a third different location in the last three years for McEwen. Last season, he posted 17 goals and 40 assists in 59 games.

“We kind of accepted this at a young age and Shaun, it’s more for him,” Brandon said. “We don’t force him to do anything at all but the harder he works the more opportunities open up for him. It’s more like hey, he has a better opportunity and as a family we’re going to see how this goes and hope the best for him.”

Added Heidi, “His continuous movement is still unique to us.”

For the second straight spring McEwen finished his schooling from home. When his freshman hockey season at Seacoast ended McEwen returned home to finish school online and played varsity lacrosse at South Hadley High School. This spring ended with the South Kent School closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. McEwen again is at home finishing school remotely.

“It brought back some old memories,” McEwen said. “I think I adapted well to going back to online school.”

McEwen has a choice to make for his next step as last week he was drafted 40th overall by Tri-City in the United States Hockey League draft for U-17 players.

“It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for two years now,” McEwen said of the draft. “I’ve really been working hard for this.”

McEwen could go to Kearney, Nebraska, and play for the Storm in the Western Conference of the USHL. He could also attend Bishop Kearney High School in Rochester, New York. Bishop Kearney will field a selects team this winter.

“I’m very fortunate,” said McEwen, who hasn’t made a decision yet. “My parents have helped me a lot through this. They made a lot of sacrifices and I’m just really fortunate to have good support around me.”

Having been involved in hockey his whole life, Cahoon is well-versed in the process it takes to achieve success.

“I’m really happy for Shaun,” Cahoon said. “He’s worked hard. I think he really understands it’s a day-to-day proposition. It’s a process. It’s something he bought into. No one has forced him to do this, told him he had to go in this direction. Between my daughter and my son-in-law, they’ve done a nice job of giving him opportunity to grow and he’s done a nice job of taking advantage of it.”

As an educator, Heidi would like to see her son be in a classroom environment one more year.

“My gut tells me he will go to Bishop Kearney,” she said.

McEwen’s still years away from college, but he has options. UMass and Boston University are among the schools that have shown interest. McEwen has toured both schools and is expected to make a decision later this year, according to Heidi.

Having played and coached at BU, and coached at UMass, Cahoon is keeping his distance.

“You can trust that I am staying out of that,” he said with a laugh. “In either instance, I would be delighted. I know personalities at both places. There is no question they are both great schools. I can make a case for the living situation in each instance being really terrific. ... I just want him to be happy. If he ends up at another institution and he’s happy there and he’s successful there and he grows there, I’ll be delighted. UMass and BU are great places to start that’s for sure.”

McEwen’s biggest goal is play hockey for a living. If that doesn’t work out, he wants to be around the game. While he has played for many different teams, one benefit has been the connections he has made along the way.

“I feel like I made a lot of friendships,” McEwen said. “I’ve met a lot of new people. I’ve enjoyed every team I’ve played for no matter the skill level and I feel like the friendships I’ve built are definitely worth it.”

Mike Moran can be reached at mmoran@gazettenet.com. Follow on Twitter @mikemoranDHG.

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