By Amanda DiPaolo
Jordin Tootoo’s goal and 4 assists in six games during Nashville’s Western Conference Quarter Finals series against the Anaheim Ducks is considered by many to be a key turning point of the series in the Predators favor.
Tootoo assisted on Jerred Smithson’s overtime winning goal in Game 5, as well as both of Nick Spalings goals in the series clinching Game 6 last Sunday at Bridgestone Arena.
As a result of his slick play-making abilities, Tootoo has been attracting national attention.
Wednesday, Tootoo was named the National Hockey League Players Association’s (NHLPA) player of the week for his role during the quarter finals.
In previewing the upcoming Western Conference semi-final between the Predators and Canucks, Radio Team 1040′s Jeff Paterson points out that in the last month, from March 24th, Tootoo (5 goals, 7 assists) has more points than last year’s Hart Trophy winner, and Canucks captain, Henrik Sedin (1 goal, 11 assists).
And during the intermission of Tuesday night’s Game 6 between Boston and Montreal, Don Cherry, during Coach’s Corner, commented on the forward being able to step up his game to play his best during the two biggest games in franchise history.
Every season it seems that it is the depth players who push one team over the threshold to pick up four wins, enough to move on to the next series. What makes Tootoo’s situation different was his ability to overcome personal problems in the middle of the season, and return a stronger player than ever.
The 28 year old left the team on December 27th to voluntarily enter the NHL/NHLPA’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program for alcohol abuse.
After missing 23 games, Tootoo returned to the lineup on February 19th.
Predators coach Barry Trotz says Tootoo has really turned his life around and it shows on the ice.
“He’s come from a very obscure upbringing if you will. Not too many guys come from Rankin Inlet [Nunavut] and make it in the NHL — some of the tragic things that have happened in his life, and the expectations, the microscope that Jordin is sort of under, and the pressures, he had to make a life decision on where he wanted to go,” Trotz explained.
“He made an outstanding decision because it is hard to have your game in order when you life is not in order. He recognized that and that shows his maturity. He has his life in order and he’s been a different player since he has come back. He’s still hard. He’s disciplined more now than ever. But his hockey game, the things he did in junior, he’s showing some offense and some skill,” Trotz said, adding, “Those are all sort of coming together. I think he enjoys that because he has the pressure of being a role model for his people, I guess, and people in those situations coming from way up north. There is a lot of tragedy in some of the things that happened and he is dealing with it the right way.”
Trotz had no reservations about playing Tootoo as well as his linemates, Smithson and Spaling, against any of the Ducks during the Western Conference quarter finals.
“They were a difference maker in the last couple of games. Not only did they give us energy, but they gave us some big goals. Jordin made a couple of great plays,” Trotz said.
His linemate, Spaling — the hero of Game 6 — credits Tootoo. “It was a good play by Toots [Tootoo]. He was driving the net. I just came in late, and he created a lot of space and got the defense to follow. The goalie was out of the net. I just shot it in.” Spaling said about the series winning goal, scored in the middle of the third period on Sunday.
Of course Tootoo talks about the play of the team, not himself, when it comes to discussing Nashville’s series victory over the Ducks.
“When you do a lot of good things, the little things, it tends to bring success to not only your team but individually as well. I’m just happy for the group of guys for supporting me throughout the year. We have to set that stuff aside and focus on the next round,” he said.
That next round starts Thursday night in Vancouver when the Predators visit the President Trophy winning Canucks. The puck drops at 8 pm CT.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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