The Tootoo Train Has Left The Station
Jordin Tootoo has one of the most exceptional stories in professional sport. And now, after 723 games in the NHL, amassing over 1000 PIMS, The Tootoo Train has departed the NHL.
His journey began in a small, indigenous community of Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. A community that has no organized sports and no services other than 2 convenience stores - and of course, 3 Tim Hortons. Jordy was surrounded by a toxic environment, engulfed by drug addicts and alcoholics, with minimal services to treat the ill. He wanted better for himself and his community, and he knew he would have to fight for it - literally.
After years of traveling countless miles, seeking the best competition in Northern Canada's territories, which is far and few between with limited resources, Jordy caught the attention of an Alberta minor hockey coach. At age 13, Tootoo moved away from his family and home to join the Spruce Grove Broncos AAA team.
Shortly after his arrival in Hellberta, he earned an Alberta Cup as the top team in the province. Following the provincial championship, Jordin was selected in the 3rd round of the WHL, where he would rapidly earn a reputation as The Tootoo Train.
However, before joining the Brandon Wheat Kings, he had to serve his time in the cold-blooded Jr A league of Manitoba with his older brother Terrence, who shared similar ambitions for himself and his indigenous community. Terrence had a couple of years on Jordin, so it wasn't too surprising he finished the season with 15 more points. Although, learning that Jordin finished with 251 penalty minutes, beating out his older, badder brother's 239 minutes was a little shocking.
Can you imagine the brotherly bang outs that would happen in the Tootoo household growing up? I would never be able to have the last cookie or get a turn ripping NHL 97 on PlayStation, and I certainly wouldn't be able to ride in the front seat of the car.
But Jordy's cruel journey was only beginning. After Tootoo was picked in the fourth round of the 2001 NHL draft, he was headed into the most challenging years of his career. The first two year's after being drafted is tough for any junior hockey player. You have a lot of pressure and expectations with minimal time. But Tootoo's adversity and challenges was on another level. His older brother Terrence was battling severe depression, while simultaneously battling a drunk driving charge. And after a successful season with the Roanoke Express of the ECHL , where he earned rookie of the year honours with the club, he died by suicide that summer. In one of his last conversations with Jordy, he said " Go all the way." This phrase would later inspire Jordin to fulfill his brother's final wishes, and influenced his book he wrote in 2014.
The Tootoo train was now at max speed, not making any stops until the NHL. He gained notoriety in junior hockey for being the most terrifying forechecker in hockey history, even for some of the hardest-hitting defencemen the league has witnessed- such as Dion Phaneuf in this video below.
He took that playing style to Halifax, Nova Scotia in the 2002 World Juniors, where he quickly became a fan favourite. That would be his final year of jr hockey and the following year, he found himself full time in Tennessee with the Preds making NHL history. Tootoo became first player from Nunavut as well as the first Inuk to ever lace them up in the show.
But copping with the tragic loss of his brother and the pressures of being a feared NHL enforcer started to overwhelm him. Hockey was his outlet from all of his hardship, but when he wasn't on the ice hitting your favourite goons' face, he was hitting the bottle to overcome his emotional and physical pain.
However, in 2010, he was faced with an ultimatum from Nashville - booze or puck. After Jordin successfully completed the NHL Substance and Abuse Program, he joined his team for playoffs in 2011 and has been clean ever since. The agitator credits sobriety to adding 8 years onto his career, and achieving his brother's shared wish.
"I got to play 13 years in the NHL and I can only hope I've done my brother proud," said Tootoo.
Jordin was put in several positions to fail throughout his life and displayed incredible resiliency through every obstacle. He was undersized, under-skilled, and had no resources as a child to better himself. Below is a special, two-minute, retirement video posted by his former junior club the Brandon Wheatkings, which perfectly portrays how exceptional his career was on and off the ice.
Congrats on an outstanding career, Jordin.