To the extent that there is a sense of purpose every time he drops the gloves, James McEwan can lose the punch count but win the fight every time.
The inspirational will of the Reign's enforcer was on full display this weekend, when he played three consecutive games after a 30-day layoff. The 6-foot, 191-pounder picked two fights with the Alaska Aces in Friday's second period alone - one against 6-foot-4, 234-pound Anthony Peluso and another against 6-1, 215-pound Justin Johnson.
"Seeing him go against their big tough guy, you know he's not scared," defenseman Dan Knapp said. "He's like a little pit bull in there. He scraps."
McEwan is not as large as most enforcers, even at the ECHL level. But no opponent is too large for the 22-year-old forward, as evidenced by his team-leading 11 fighting majors in 25 games.
Knapp said he isn't merely impressed by McEwan's fists. He doesn't score much - McEwan has one goal and no assists this season - but he can help his teammates score, as he did on Knapp's first goal of the season Sunday by screening Idaho goalie Rejean Beauchemin in front of the crease.
"I think that's been a big part of our success, having someone in the lineup like that," Knapp said. "Even that mentality - if there's a cheap shot, there's someone around to have your back. He's a good guy to have in your toolbox."
Reign head coach Karl Taylor wanted McEwan in the Reign's toolbox last season. But Phoenix Roadrunners coach Brad Church was the first to call McEwan, who was coming off his final season with the Western Hockey League's Kelowna Rockets.
In 59 games with Phoenix, McEwan had three goals, seven points and 227 penalty minutes - third in the ECHL.
His path to Ontario was paved when the Roadrunners failed to make the playoffs and ceased operations at the end of the season.
"When we folded I figured if I could play anywhere I'd want to play here," McEwan said. "It ended up working out pretty good."
Taylor called McEwan a "great team guy, a leader, a great person who just wants to get better every day."
"When you're making the hard plays, blocking a shot or taking on a guy that's a tough individual, those are things that make your teammates rise to the occasion and you earn stripes with your teammates," Taylor said.
"It energizes our team. Just like when a guy blocks a shot."
Fighting always has been McEwan's forte, as a junior player and even earlier. Hockey was his first love, but McEwan has taken boxing lessons in his native Kelowna, British Columbia since age 12 and still goes back every offseason to hone his craft.
"I had to do something that would separate me from the rest, that not everyone will bring," he said. "Sticking up for guys, trying to get a spark, it's kind of a tough job. Not everyone will do it but I'll step up and do it."
Less than growing up in a rough neighborhood or getting picked on by older brothers or other kids, McEwan insisted fighting simply is part of his nature. His bloodlines would support that; McEwan has a pair of young brothers currently playing in juniors, and Joey McEwan and Josh McEwan both come from the enforcer mold.
"Not that I like to go and fight people, but when the challenge arises I don't mind tackling it," he said.
McEwan has been complemented on his pugilistic skills from no less a legend than NHL veteran Claude Lemieux.
It was the middle of last season when Lemieux was attempting a comeback with the American Hockey League's Worcester Sharks, and McEwan appeared in his only four games at the AHL level.
McEwan got into a pair of fights during his stay and left with a couple lasting words from Lemieux: "He kept saying, `Nice fight, kid.' "
In the circle
Every now and then, a successful faceoff goes a long way.
In the first period Friday, Michael Pelech turned a pair of offensive-zone faceoff victories into his sixth and seventh goals of the season on tip-ins in front of the Alaska net. Pelech did it again Sunday against Idaho by winning a first-period faceoff in the offensive zone that led to Knapp's goal.
But for the most part this season, Taylor said the Reign's play in the circle has been "just OK."
"We have to do a way better job on faceoffs," he said. "It's not just the centermen, it's everyone on the ice. It's the wingers helping out."
The Regina Pats' Colten Teubert has nine goals and 31 points, which ranks 18th among defensemen in the Western Hockey League.
Right wing Geoff Walker registered an assist and a goal, his fourth of the American Hockey League season, in four games last week for the Manchester Monarchs. Jon Rheault scored his first two goals of the AHL season in back-to-back games Friday and Saturday for Manchester.
Forward Dwight King also had a goal and an assist in the Monarchs' four games last week.
Center Dusty Collins scored his second goal of the AHL season Friday for the Manitoba Moose.
Goaltender John Murray went 1-3 in four games last week for the ECHL's Johnstown Chiefs. He finished January with a 2-7-2 record and a 3.89 goals-against average for the Chiefs.
Defenseman Darren McMillan has two goals and 17 points in 17 games for Klostersee of the German Oberliga.
Desdner Eisl wen goalie Kellen Briggs ranks 10th in the ESBG - the second-tier league in Germany - with a 2.83 goals-against average. Defenseman P.J. Atherton has six goals and 19 points in 38 games for Hanover of the ESBG.
On Saturday, CBBA will host Fire on Ice II, the second annual charity game between the Ontario and New York fire departments. The game begins at 3 p.m. and proceeds will benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The Reign host the Stockton Thunder at 7 p.m.