Native NHL tough guy in for fight of his life

VANCOUVER – Throughout his long NHL career, ‘The Algonquin Assassin,’ Gino Odjick did battle with a lot of opponents on the ice. Now he is battling for his life in a Vancouver Hospital after being diagnosed with a rare and terminal heart disease known as AL amyloidosis.

In an open letter to his fans and former teammates, the 43-year-old ex-Vancouver Canuck, New York Islander, and Montreal Canadien enforcer, describes himself as “just a little old Indian boy from the Rez.”

He was born 43 years ago at Kitigan Zibi just outside the town of Maniwaki, Quebec. He was drafted by the Canucks in the fifth round (86th overall) in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft. While in Vancouver, he played on a line with the great Russian hockey star Pavel Bure, acting as his body guard, similar to Dave Samenko’s or Marty McSorley’s job watching Gretzky’s back in Edmonton.

Odjick once explained his close friendship with the Russian Rocket.

“He came over from Russia, and was a Red Russian, very proud of his heritage, and when he came I knew the feeling he had,” Odjick said. “We were two people who came from completely different cultures than what we were put into.”

Odjick, grew up idolizing Six Nations’ NHL warrior Stan Jonathan of the Boston Bruins and patterned his game after him.
“That was the goal,” he once said in an interview. “I never wanted to fight, just to see if I was tougher than one guy. I never wanted to be known as the toughest guy in the NHL. I just wanted to be known as a guy that took care of his teammates.”
Jonathan was moved to hear that.

“I guess you don’t realize until you are out of hockey what influence you have on Native kids when you were playing,” he told the Two Row Times.

Jonathan was saddened by the news but has hopes that Gino will win this fight too.

“I talked to his sister a couple of years ago at the li’l NHL and she said his post concussion syndrome had come back on him, but that is all I knew,” Jonathan said. “I know he always respected me, and it’s sad to hear about this.”

Gino continued his desire to bring along Onkwehon:we kids after his days as an NHL were over, and spent some time at Six Nations’ Gaylord Powless Arena as an instructor for the Stan Jonathan Hockey Camp.

“I had him down here and he was very helpful for the kids, being a Native,” he says “Gino was really great with the kids. We will be praying for him and burn some tobacco for him and ask the Creator to take care of him.”

Odjick released an open letter to talk about his career and his love for his fans, teammates, his Nation and his family. In it he acknowledges the role model he has been to all young Onkwehon:we kids.

“It means the world to me that my hockey career gave me a chance to open doors for kids in Aboriginal community,” he writes. “I was just a little old Indian boy from the Rez. If I could do it, so could they. My hope is that my hockey story helps show kids from home what’s possible. I always tell them that education is freedom.”

The news brought both shock and support from former coaches, teammates, fans and even opponents.

“He was tough, but off the ice, you couldn’t meet a more humble, big-hearted person,” said former Vancouver coach Pat Quinn when he heard the news. “He’s quite a man, and he’s fought for everybody else for long enough. Now he’s got to fight for himself, and I believe he’ll do it.”

Cliff Ronning who played with Odjick in the early 1990’s calls him “a true warrior” who is “definitely in for the fight of his life.”

“Having a guy like Gino around really makes all of us play bigger and tougher. We aren’t afraid of initiating battles, because we known Gino is with us. There is a noticeable difference in team mentality since Gino’s arrival,” Ronning once said in an interview with the Vancouver Province.

Gino Odjick wasn’t only a fighter. He scored 29 points, including 16 goals, 5 of them game winners. In 605 NHL games, including stops in Long Island, Montreal and Philadelphia, Odjick scored 64 goals and 73 assists while racking up 2,567 career penalty minutes.

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