Representing Team Canada at the 2003 World Junior Hockey Championships was definitely an emotional experience for former NHL forward Jordin Tootoo.
Described by scouts as being a determined checker and fast skater, Tootoo, who that year was playing out of the Western Hockey League with the Brandon Wheat Kings, played a major factor in helping Canada emerge with a silver medal. Proving to be a real spark, Tootoo scored two goals and three points while registering four penalty minutes in six World Junior games; he helped Canada make it to the finals where they suffered heartbreak in dropping a 3-2 decision against the defending champions from Russia.
“So far the best time of my hockey career,” Tootoo said. “So much fun I can’t even express my feelings.”
Tootoo, only 19 years-old at the time, made hockey history a couple of years earlier when in 2001, he became the first Inuk player to be drafted in the NHL, when the Nashville Predators selected him 98th overall in the 2001 draft. Prior to making his mark in the NHL, a very determined Tootoo put on the Team Canada jersey and was determined to win gold to honor his best friend and brother Terence who in 2002 took his own life. Terence did leave a note which read,
“Jor, go all the way. Take care of the family. You’re the man, Ter.” Jordin, who was sporting his brother’s number stated that he was playing to not only honor his brother’s legacy but also for the territory of Nunavut. The 2003 World Junior tournament which was held from December 26, 2002 to January 5, 2003 at the Halifax Metro Centre and in Sydney Nova Scotia, saw Canada finish first in the Group B Pool, as they went a perfect 4-0 with victories against Sweden (8-2), Czech Republic (4-0), Germany (4-1) and Finland (5-3). On January 3, 2003, with 10,594 cheering hockey fans in the Halifax Metro Centre, Canada in semi-final action outshot the USA by a 42-15 count but needed a late third period goal, assisted by Tootoo for a 3-2 win and a berth in the finals. Tootoo, who is only 5’9” and 199 pounds of muscle had his parents, cousins and friends who travelled from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut to Halifax in the stands. Showing his muscle and character, Tootoo definitely raised some eyebrows when during the gold medal game, he laid out Russia’s star Alex Ovechkin. However, it just wasn’t meant to be for Canada as they would once again come up a bit short in winning silver at the 2003 World Junior Championships. In a 15 year-career Tootoo would go on to play 723 games with the Predators, Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils and Chicago Blackhawks where he would end up with 65 goals, 161 points and 1010 penalty minutes. What people will remember the most about Tootoo is his never quit attitude as he often won puck battles or fights against players twice his size. While it might not have been gold, you can bet that after all these years later, Tootoo still has great memories of getting the privilege to play in the World Junior Hockey Championships. In October, 2018, Tootoo officially announced he was retiring from NHL hockey.