When he first made his debut in the National Hockey League with the Nashville Predators on October 9, 2003, Jordin Tootoo not only made history as the first Inuk to play in the NHL. He also beat all odds to make the opening night roster for the 2003-04 Nashville Predators.
Across the great Country of Canada, many First Nation, Metis, and Inuit people were celebrating the rise to stardom for the 5’9”, 199 lb right winger as Canada’s Pride and Joy.
Many colleagues who are established sports scribes wrote that Tootoo won’t last the full season and seriously get hurt due to his size. But lo and behold, Jordin Tootoo played 13 seasons in the NHL and on Friday, October 19, 2018, he called it a career.
Tootoo made history when he was drafted 98th overall by Nashville in 2001. He played most of his career with the Predators and also spent time with Detroit, New Jersey and Chicago. Tootoo last played in the 2016-17 season, when he had two goals and an assist in 50 games with the Blackhawks.
The 35-year-old Tootoo finished with 65 goals, 96 assists and 1,010 penalty minutes over 723 NHL regular-season games and three goals, seven assists and 65 penalty minutes over 42 post-season games.
Toots, as he is known to his teammates, announced his retirement in Brandon, Man., where he became a 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. “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.”
Tootoo scored 93 goals, 209 points and accumulated 874 minutes in penalties in 220 career games with the Wheat Kings. He ranked third on the club’s career list for penalty minutes and 11th in scoring among right wingers.
“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.”
"It's difficult to describe the emotions I feel as I look back," said the right wing who played in 723 NHL games between Nashville, New Jersey, Detroit and Chicago. "I'll sum it up in one word: gratitude. The camaraderie with the players and the connection with the fans is is one thing you need to experience to believe. It has enriched my life beyond words."
"I'm retiring with no regrets," said Tootoo, who hails from Rankin Inlet of the Nunavut Territory that has a population under 3,000. "It's been a great run and now it's time for me to move on to the next chapter of my life.
"I know I will always remain close to my native roots and will continue to work to enhance life for native children who are suffering . . . I want to work with communities to create awareness around mental health and to support suicide prevention initiatives."
In 2011 he started the Team Tootoo Fund to assist nonprofits addressing suicide awareness and prevention, and supporting at-risk youth — topics that hit close to home. Tootoo lost his older brother Terence to suicide in 2002 following an arrest on drunken driving charges.
"His final words to me were, 'Jor, go all the way. Take care of the family. You are the man,'" he said at the press conference announcing his retirement. "I can only hope that I lived up to your expectations, bro."
Tootoo credited the city of Nashville, where he spent the first eight years of his career, with helping him get through the grieving process. He also thanked Predators general manager David Poile and former Nashville coach Barry Trotz for helping him realize that he needed help with his alcoholism, and Red Wings general manager Ken Holland, who believed in him during his recovery.
Tootoo, who became emotional during his speech, credits everything to hockey.
"I will leave this game at peace with myself, with the love of my family and with the memories that will last a lifetime. I owe my life to this game," he said.