Back in Nunavut, Tootoo uses youth camp to keep fit
“These kids are our future, and it’s an honour to be role model for these kids”
When National Hockey League star Jordin Tootoo took his first step off the airplane and gazed out onto his home town of Rankin Inlet, it took his breath away.
It most likely had something to do with the -34 C dead-of-winter air in the coastal Hudson Bay hamlet, but memories of growing up in the community of 2,500 people — and walking down the hallway at the local arena where he learned much of his trade — had the same effect.
“Walking down the hallway to the arena and skating on the ice for the first time definitely brought back a few memories,” Tootoo told Nunatsiaq News Dec. 12.
Tootoo’s in the territory for a few reasons — to see family during the holiday period, to catch up with a few childhood buddies, and to host the Team Tootoo Hockey Camp from Dec. 14 to Dec. 16.
That’s when more than 130 kids from Rankin, and others who travelled to the hamlet for the event, will get to experience how an NHL professional with almost 10 years experience conducts himself on and off the ice.
Tootoo, who will do on-ice drills and play games with the youth, said the main idea of the camp is to have fun.
But there’s a lot more to it than that.
“These kids are our future, and it’s an honour to be a role model for these kids coming up and if I could change the life of one of these kids, it’s a bonus,” Tootoo said.
The hope is that some of his attributes might rub off on a youngster or two.
“I take great pride in being a role model for these young kids and I’m just paving the way,” Tootoo said.
“But with that comes hard work and discipline, commitment, and having the right mindset to becoming a better professional both on and off the ice every day.”
And that hard work for Tootoo doesn’t end just because there’s a lockout in the NHL.
The NHL is currently embroiled in a labour dispute between team owners and the players union. But that can change at any moment.
The Nunavut legend has been on the ice every day, skating with old pals and keeping up his fitness in case the stalled hockey season kicks back into gear.
“I’ve been to the gym five days a week, and fortunately, I have ice here with my buddies to make sure I keep my wind,” Tootoo said.
“It’s one day at a time until that phone call. When it comes, I know I’m physically and mentally prepared for however many games we have to play,” Tootoo said.
Although it’s agonizing for Tootoo to be on the sidelines coming off a 30-point season in the NHL last season — his highest point tally in his NHL career — he said the absence of NHL hockey is also affecting the lives of all Nunavut hockey lovers.
“It’s Canada’s sport. How could you not miss it?” Tootoo said with a chuckle.
“It’s definitely affecting a lot of families — I can attest to that because, not only in my household, but a lot of my buddies’ households, there’s a lot of people anxiously waiting,” he said.
Anxious is probably a good word to describe Tootoo’s feeling when it comes to playing for his new team, the Detroit Red Wings.
He signed a three-year $5.7 million contract with the Red Wings July 1.
And although he sees kids already walking around Rankin with Red Wings jerseys bearing his famous number 22, Tootoo hasn’t yet had the chance to wear that uniform in a game.
“Signing as a free agent, looking forward to a new team and a new start, it’s something that I was looking forward to in the summer. But right now, it is what it is. You just kind-of have to go through it day-by-day,” he said.
Tootoo said he made the decision to go to Detroit because of the Red Wings’ historic achievements in the past.
Out of all 30 NHL teams over the past two decades, the hockey club has the most Stanley Cup wins.
And Tootoo, 29, said he’s primed to step up and deliver for the Wings.
“I believe I’m in the prime of my career and I have to give myself every opportunity to be a contender,” Tootoo said.
“There were a number of teams that were interested in me, and I felt that Detroit would be the best fit for me. But time will tell for bringing the Stanley Cup home.
“That’s a goal of mine, to ultimately bring the Stanley cup home. And I think Detroit is going to give me that opportunity.”
Until then, Tootoo had one message for Nunavummiut: “I want to thank everyone in the territory of Nunavut for all their support, I really appreciate it.”
“Merry Christmas to everybody, and happy holidays.”