BRANDON MAN — After a 13-year NHL career – not easy to do – the NHL’s first Inuit hockey player to break the ice, so to speak, Rankin Inlet’s Jordan Tootoo has announced he is “hanging ‘em up” after over 723 NHL regular-season games, 42 post-season games with 65 goals, 96 assists and 1,010 penalty minutes.
He was drafted by the Nashville Predators in the fourth round, 98th overall, of the 2001 NHL draft and played most of his career in music city. He also spent time in Detroit, New Jersey and Chicago. He was a Jr. Hockey star with the Western Hockey League’s Wheat Kings.
“When I came to Brandon in 1999, I didn’t think of myself as an Indigenous role model, I was just a hockey player that would fight with everything I had to make the NHL,” Tootoo said in a recent interview following the announcement. “This community embraced me and looked beyond my background and just judged me for how I played the game. And it’s pretty special and symbolic to come full circle and be back here to announce that I have retired from the NHL.”
He reflects on his career with a sense of pride, but also a sense of history.
“I look back and I reflect on my hockey career and the opportunities it’s given me away from the game,” Tootoo said. “Personally I didn’t think it would go this far but I am grateful for everything that’s put in front of me — it’s been a tremendous ride.”
Jordan was still carrying the emotional scares caused by the suicide of the older brother he looked up to and emulated. Terence Tootoo was a star Jr. player in his own right, who was being looked at by NHL scouts and was expected to become the first Inuit player to make it to the NHL.
His death shattered Jordan but a letter left to him by his troubled brother helped to focuses his career.
“Jor, go all the way,” he wrote. “Take care of the family. You’re the man. Terence.”
Despite his bright future, Terence also had dark side, created by alcohol and drug abuse.
“It’s the mid-career memoir of Tootoo, a tough-as-nails, built-like-a-brick fighter who, against all odds, reached hockey’s highest summit from the small village of Rankin Inlet in Nunavut,” says a forward to Tootoo’s new biography, entitled, ‘All the Way: My Life on Ice.’ “The book’s bountiful f-bombs, derivatives and an assortment other colourful metaphors give it the raw, bare bones feel of being in a bar listening to Tootoo tell his story. Except he’s not drinking. Nearly four years removed from a mid-season stint in rehab, Tootoo is still sober, following more than a decade of heavy drinking and all the debauchery and demons that ensued.”
But it comes with a warning. Although inspirational, this book is also direct, foulmouthed and descriptive in his references to the level of darkness sudden fame and fortune brought with them.