[OFB note: Last week HockeyWashington endured a shock and a setback with word that Caps’ Media Relations Maestro Nate Ewell was leaving early next month to return to a top communications post in college hockey — his first love. We’d been working with Nate over some months to generate a profile of his background and remarkable achievements with the Caps, foremost among them perhaps the team’s virtual lock on the Dillman Award, handed out at the end of each season to the best PR team in the NHL. Hockey is ascendant in Washington in part because of the Capitals’ embrace of new media, and Nate’s been a central figure in building a league-best blogosphere here. No hockey blog in D.C. has benefited more from Nate’s commitment and enthusiasm for new media than OFB. He will be especially missed by us. Below is the first of a two-part profile of our favorite hockey communicator.]
High up in Verizon Center, leaning forward in his tailored brown striped suit, Capitals’ Vice President of Communications Nate Ewell runs through a final check of his Blackberry. His end seat in the press box is still surrounded by vacant folding chairs as the Verizon Center press box has yet to fill with members of print, radio, television, and new media. While he gets to travel with some of the biggest names in hockey and certainly enjoys what he does, it doesn’t mean his job is not stressful. Often times, he can be so busy he forgets to do some of the menial tasks in life, including one time forgetting to eat.
“When Alex [Ovechkin] won his first Hart Trophy in 2008, we flew back with [Capitals Majority Owner] Ted,” says Ewell, 36, glancing at the pristine sheet of ice below. “We pretty much knew he was going to win the MVP, thankfully, so we could plan out in advance. He was the city’s first MVP in 25 years, so we planned the key to the city award. I remember getting on the plane after the awards . . . they brought around a fruit tray and I grabbed some food and was shoveling food in my mouth and I was like, ‘I didn’t eat yesterday did I?’ I realized that all day preparing for the awards and getting Ovi on the red carpet and doing interviews everywhere and preparing the next day, I hadn’t eaten all day.”
Despite the stress and the time commitment and the nutritional sacrifices, Ewell loves his job and has been inordinately successful in his chosen career path. Whether it is being on a media team that has captured the NHL’s Dick Dillman award for the best media relations outfit in the league the last four years, forging media relations into the era of new media, or simply interacting and working with one of the world’s premiere athletes, Ewell has been on the front line of hockey public relations. His success has been shaped by both good experiences and some life’s trials. Whether it was dealing with a training camp clouded by the 9/11 attacks or simply dealing with a rejection from the college of his choice, Ewell has been shaped by his successes and struggles.Ewell was surrounded by hockey and the world of sports from a young age. His father, Bob, was a women’s ice hockey coach and men’s lacrosse assistant coach working at Colby University in Maine, and later at Princeton University. Being surrounded by college sports not only gave Ewell a chance to travel with the teams, but he also got to forge relationships with the different players. Bob Ewell will tell you that the athletes provided great role models for his son to look up to as a child.
Despite having a family actively involved in sports and constantly being surrounded by the whirl of different games, Ewell was not the best athlete. While Ewell understood the games, his father noted, he did not always have the same athletic skills as others. Even though he never excelled in the sports themselves, it never stopped Ewell from staying involved.
“He played lacrosse, he was a little slow of foot but he understood the game,” Bob Ewell noted. Nate’s love and knowledge of sports allowed him to become involved in other parts of athletics, dad added. “He was always around sports and really got involved in the sports information end of things early.”
While his father was at Colby, Nate was in charge of perhaps one of the most important parts of the game — keeping score. His father said he remembers when Ewell was either 8 or 10, and he would keep track of the Colby men’s lacrosse score. As he grew older, he transitioned into other roles with more responsibility.
“We had a manual scoreboard — this was a long time ago — and he would be up on the hill and was scorekeeper,” Bob Ewell said of his son’s participation in sports information. The family moved to Princeton, N.J., when Ewell was in sixth grade. When he got to high school, he took on more important roles in sports information at Princeton. “I think his sophomore, junior and senior year [of high school] he was our public address announcer for the women’s hockey games and the lacrosse games.”
One thing Bob Ewell could not stress enough was his son’s intelligence. It showed in his grades too, as he was shooting to go to Dartmouth College for his secondary education. While Ewell did not get into his school of choice, he was able to attend another one of the nation’s top universities. It was the school he had known so well from his childhood, Princeton.
“Princeton was a place I was familiar with,” Ewell said. His messy brown hair fell over his forehead as he continued. “I had grown up around the school so the transition wasn’t too difficult.”
After graduating from college, Ewell wasted no time and immediately went into the workforce. He took a job at Michigan State University in their Sports Information Department. Despite being so willing to take the job, Ewell realized he did not know anything about East Lansing, Mich., or the state itself for that matter.
“I flew out there the morning after graduating and I had been bawling all day because it was the first time it hit [me] that [I] had to leave,” Ewell said with a slight smile on his face. “I was exhausted and I got on a plane and remember landing in Lansing and turning my clock back and the pilot saying it was whatever time. It is still Eastern time in Michigan, I had no idea. I was like, wow I flew that far it has to be an hour back.”
Flustered, Ewell had to stop at a gas station and get directions to the Michigan State campus. Despite the new world and new experiences, Ewell took the challenge head on and came out on top, quickly ascending through the sports information ranks. He started at Michigan State as the school’s main hockey contact, but in a matter of a few years, Ewell became the second football contact for the team. It wouldn’t be long before his interest would turn to hockey.
[Admin update: Part 2 can be found here.]