Yukon North Of Ordinary

Sports archive for August 1, 2012

Jordin Tootoo ready for the next step in his career

Newly inked Detroit Red Wing Jordin Tootoo hasn’t forgotten his past.

By Sam Riches on August 1, 2012 at 2:22 pm

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

READY FOR CHANGE – Jordin Tootoo is ready to take his game to the next level, on and off the ice. The 29-year-old forward signed a three-year deal with the Red Wings this off-season.

Newly inked Detroit Red Wing Jordin Tootoo hasn’t forgotten his past.

The gritty forward from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut arrived in Whitehorse yesterday morning to take part in the tenth anniversary of the Northwestel Summit Hockey School.

This past season was the best of his eight-year career, playing in 77 games for the Nashville Predators and collecting 30 points.

But things haven’t come easy for the NHL’s first Inuit player.

His older brother, Terence, never got the chance see his younger brother lace up his skates for the greatest professional ice hockey league in the world.

A successful forward with the OCN Blizzard, a junior ‘A’ team in Manitoba, Terence committed suicide in August 2002 in the wake of a drunken driving charge. He was 22 years old.

Tootoo spent the next eight years struggling with his own drinking problem until he voluntarily checked into the NHL’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program in December 2010.

After successfully completing the program, Tootoo returned to the ice to finish the season and play in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs.

He’s been sober since Dec. 18, 2010 and his efforts were rewarded this off-season when he signed a three-year, US$5.7 million contract with the perennial Stanley Cup contenders on the first day of free agency.

Tootoo has taken the steps to change the course of his career and now he’s utilizing his platform to talk about an issue that’s bigger than the game.

He’s become involved with the Aboriginal Youth Council of Canada and their national youth strategy program for suicide prevention.

“To be a part of something that affected my family is very important to us,” he told the Star.

“It’s an issue a lot of Northern communities struggle with. The biggest thing is making awareness of it and showing people it’s okay to speak out and know that there’s help out there.

“Whether you’re a professional athlete, a plumber or a carpenter we all have issues and you’ve just got to know deep down inside there are people on the outside to help.”

Tootoo will be spending two days at the hockey school before resuming his off-season training in the Okanogan region of B.C.

With only a couple of days in town, Tootoo said he’s determined to make the most of his opportunity to reach out to the local youth.

“I’m fortunate that I could come interact with the kids and do what I love to do and that’s play hockey. Anytime I can strap on the blades and help the youngsters out is always a bonus.

“Every time I see a smile on these kids’ faces it really tickles me. I’m a small-town boy so I really feel their energy to see someone who plays in the NHL come in and interact with them. I was there as a kid myself too and it’s a pretty special feeling.”

Hosted at the Canada Games Centre, the hockey school has 60 participants from across the Yukon ranging in age from six to 17.

For some of the young athletes, the school is their first opportunity to play hockey in a full size arena.

“You could tell a lot of the kids were in awe and I just told them ‘I’m a regular Inuk like a lot of you guys,’” said Tootoo.

“I worked hard for what I do and nothing comes easy in this world. I just stressed the fact that at the end of the day it’s about having fun and being part of a team.”

Tootoo will bring his physicality to the Motor City, bolstering an already high-powered offensive team with his passion and versatility.

Tootoo’s a classic team player, injecting his squad with energy while getting under the skin of his opponents.

“My foundation is being physical,” he said.

“When you do that, good things happen and I’m sure they will in Detroit.

“I think it was the perfect time for change. I couldn’t be more excited to be part of an organization that’s been a Stanley Cup champion 11 times. They know how to win, just the history the Red Wings have is unbelievable.

“All things seem to happen for a reason and this is one of them.”

While his play on the ice has improved, it’s off the ice where Tootoo has made the biggest strides.

He continues to develop his charity initiatives, contributing significantly to the Nashville community last season and empowering programs like Students Taking a Right Stand, which addresses bullying in Tennessee public schools and the Oasis Center, which offers 22 programs to the Nashville area including the only college counseling centre for first generation college students.

“I feel a lot better both physically and mentally. Basically it’s one day at a time,” said Tootoo.

“At this point in my life, I’m very content and comfortable in my own skin.”
In professional sports, where the players are young, their bank accounts are full and they’re in a different city almost every night, there’s a natural fear of relapse.

With the support of his family and friends, Tootoo said he’s in the right place to keep moving forward.

“I’m very fortunate to be doing what I love,” he said.

“I wake up everyday and I’m excited to go to work and enjoy it but at the same time it’s tough.

“When you have the right group of people around you to support you, it definitely takes the weight off your shoulders a little bit. Without my family and friends I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

With the success of last season propelling him forward, Tootoo said he’s ready to take the next step in his career.

He has one priority on the ice next season: to win the Stanley Cup.

“That’s the ultimate goal,” he said.

“All the other goals I’ll just keep to myself.”

CommentsAdd a comment

MJ

Aug 2, 2012 at 1:01 pm

~ Right on 2~2!

Victor Katz

Aug 2, 2012 at 8:39 pm

Welcome to Detroit, Jordin . . .

I’m looking forward to cheering you on for a change

Mark

Aug 3, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Go Oilers and Canadians

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