TORONTO-When you walk in to the Toronto Marlies dressing room and look around at the players talking to the media, one player will stand out. That player is Jeff Cowan. His eyes show focus, almost as if he’s recapping the game in his mind. Plus his beard is bright red and grows in thicker than many of the other, younger players on the team. Cowan, a Scarborough Ontario native, is 34 and has played for a fair share of teams in his professional career; which is something many of the Marlies can’t say because the average age of their roster is only 23.4. A team so young always needs a few veterans to assist them along through a gruelling American Hockey League (AHL) season so Cowan’s age is more of a positive than a negative for the Marlies. Also, the Marlies have been lacking in depth at the forward position all season because of call-ups and injuries. When you take those factors into consideration, signing Cowan in December made perfect sense.
Cowan, who was never drafted, has played professional hockey since 1996 when he broke into the AHL with the Saint John Flames (Calgary’s former affiliate). After grinding out three seasons in New Brunswick, he finally saw some limited action with the Calgary Flames in 1999, playing 13 games. When the next season started, Cowan was playing full time in the National Hockey League (NHL) and he kept it that way for seven seasons. During that time frame he played a total of 413 games while scoring 47 goals, 81 points and 695 PIM for the Calgary Flames, Atlanta Thrashers, Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks. Known as a tough guy to many, his NHL career would see him throw fists with all sizes of enforcers such as Matthew Barnaby, Zac Stortini, Derek Boogard, Brad May, Chris Simon and Wade Belak. After losing his biggest fight, an NHL roster spot for 2008/09, Cowan would be back in the AHL playing for the Peoria Rivermen (St Louis affiliate). After one season in Peoria, he signed with the Portland Pirates (Buffalo affiliate) for 2009/10. Playing for the Pirates, Cowan put up a career year statistically with 18 goal, 31 points in 62 games. Usually a career year would bolster a player’s value and perhaps open some eyes but instead Cowan found himself without a team to start the 2010/11 season. With his hockey career uncertain, Cowan’s life outside the rink continued on and on December 14th, 2010 he was met with his greatest day in a long time.
“My wife just had a baby, so it was a pretty exciting time and it was actually the same day (December 14th) I signed here with the Marlies so that’s my highlight so far,” Cowan said when reflecting back on his crazy year.
With a new child and another opportunity to play pro hockey, Cowan jumped into action only three days after signing on and like any new member of a team, is finding his role within the organization. Some player’s will tell you that the best way to grow as a team is to go away for a while so the Marlies current road trip could be perfect timing.
“It’s been a crazy kind of start; you know not playing until December. I’m looking forward to getting on the road trip and being with the guys, getting to know the guys and trying to get some chemistry going with my line mates,” stated Cowan when thinking about the new Calendar year.
If he wants to get to know his teammates, perhaps on the bus he could open up and share his stories of NHL life. Such as on March 6th, 2007 when he turned a game in Vancouver into what the commentators referred to as a “rock concert”. On the hottest scoring streak of his career, Cowan potted two goals in a 5-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Not known to be a prolific scorer, it was his fifth goal in three games and all the Canucks fans knew what they saw was Cowan at his best. After the second goal, the crowd chanted “Cowan” unlike anything he had ever heard. As if the vocal pat on the back wasn’t enough, a fan tossed a bra onto the ice which in the end earned him the name “Cowan the Bra-barian.” The name would not be lived down for the rest of the season and even gave way to a few others made up by his teammates.
Obviously Cowan brings more than just NHL memories to this team and like any good athlete; he has set goals for himself.
“Focus on my job which is playing hockey, try to keep my mind set on helping this team out. That’s probably number one for me. It’s been a tough year so far so I want to come here and make something of the year.”
Currently Cowan has four points in nine games with the Marlies and surprisingly no penalty minutes. He scored an assist in his first game with the team and added his first goal two games later. Only time will tell the final outcome, but for now it seems that signing Cowan is good for both Cowan and the Toronto Marlies. Cowan can perhaps change some minds and let people know that he is still a quality hockey player while the Marlies can take advantage of his experience, toughness and dedication to hockey.