Being the first is never easy, especially when the weight of an entire people is carried on your shoulders. Predators’ pest extraordinaire Jordin Tootoo was the first player of Inuk descent to be drafted and play in the NHL and has become a role model for young people of Native descent all over Canada. He also brings a high flying, hard hitting brand of hockey to the Music City and is beloved by the fan base for the passion he brings night in and night out to the lineup. He even spent some time in the celebrity spotlight dating country crooner Kellie Pickler in 2007 (Their ahem “break up” is portrayed in Pickler’s single “Best Days of Your Life”). Life for Jordin Tootoo however has been far from a Hollywood/Music City fairy tale; in addition to carrying the weight of his people he lost his older broth Terrence to suicide in 2002, just over a year before making his NHL debut. The death of a family member especially at such a young age can drastically alter the life path of anyone, but Jordin soldiered through the adversity and posted a career year in his final season in the Western Hockey League with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Jordin then made the Predators as a 20 year old rookie in 2003 before playing a single game in the minor leagues and was with the team as the franchise made the postseason for the first time. During the lockout and in parts of the subsequent year Tootoo honed his craft in Milwaukee of the AHL before firmly establishing himself as a bona fide NHLer in 2006. Following the mass exodus of free agents in 2007 Jordin’s offense began to come around as he recorded a then career high 18 points. Jordin continued his role as the preeminent pest in the league using his physicality and effort to keep other teams honest for the ensuing three seasons. This all changed two days after Christmas, 2010 when Jordin checked into the NHLPA substance abuse and behavioral health program citing alcohol abuse. It’s easy for anyone to snicker at this and make a snide comment along the lines of “Rehab is for quitters” and overlook the back story of Jordin’s life. While in the program Jordin put “Jordin Tootoo the hockey player” on the backburner in order to tend to “Jordin Tootoo the human being”, which is in itself a remarkable and humbling feat and one that everyone can respect. Tootoo stayed in the program until the end of January and made his return to the lineup on February 19 against the Anaheim Ducks. After his return the Predators went on a remarkable run that culminated in their first ever playoff series win against the Ducks in which Tootoo averaged just under a point per game and was a great physical presence. Through it all Jordin Tootoo has been his passionate and team first self showing the many facets to his game on the ice and to his personality off of it.
One the one year anniversary of Jordin playing his first game back one thing is apparent and that is it’s not the weight that brings you down it’s how you carry it and Jordin has carried the weight of the Inuk people and the Nashville Predators and their fans admirably. The hardest thing in the world especially for a professional athlete living life under a constant microscope is ask for help. The fact that Tootoo did that and emerged playing some of the best hockey of his career is truly a testament to his willpower. Fans everywhere should take note of how Jordin beat his demons and continues to be a positive influence on those around him. After being on board for the franchise’s first playoff appearance and first series win, Tootoo and the Preds are in a perfect position for another string of historical moments, starting tomorrow night when they look to snap Detroit’s NHL record 21 game home winning streak.
To go with the piece on Tootoo I’m including this vlog entry I did a month ago on #22