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November 2003

Tootoo Family Carries on With Jordin's Success.

It’s been over a year since we interviewed Jordin Tootoo. At the time we interviewed him, he had just sat down to watch a video tape his brother Terence had just sent him. Terence was playing for the Roanoke express, and he and Jordin exchanged tapes, and listened to radio broadcasts of each others games. At the time, Jordin was far away in Brandon, Manitoba, playing for the WHL Wheat Kings. Jordin was quick to mention that we also need to contact Terence. “This was a Too for one interview. If you get me, you get him also,” Jordin stated.

Sadly, we were never able to interview Terence, as he passed away only weeks after we interviewed Jordin. Yet, Nativehockey.com would still like to honor the “Too for One” interview in a tribute to Terence and Jordin.

Terence and Jordin were both raised in Rankin Inlet, a small Inuit community in what is now Nunavut. As in most small communities, family was important to the Tootoos. The Tootoos grew up with a sister named Corinne, and his mother, Rose, was instrumental in putting us in contact with Jordin and Terence. At age three, Jordin’s father, Barney, took Jordin to the rink in their community of Rankin Inlet. His father taught him how to skate, and a few years later, how to play hockey. Terence, being older, was just ahead of Jordin.

Both Tootoos developed as physical players, but for Jordin, the smaller of the two, it was a matter of survival.

“That’s just the way we played, so I had to learn that style,” Jordin stated. “And we really didn’t have enough players to play on organized teams, or in a league, we just played shinny hockey.”

At the age of fourteen, Jordin left home to play his first season of organized hockey.

“I played my first year of organized hockey in Spruce Grove, Alberta. I had never been away from my family, so I was pretty nervous about everything. It was culture shock for me, but my billet family played a big role in helping me to adjust to everything. It was helpful that my billet family was native, but I received lots of support from my mom and dad as well. At some point you have to be able to adjust to life in the outside world. I was nervous, but all I focused on was playing hockey. I knew that if I wanted to make it playing hockey, I would have to get comfortable living away from my family and friends for a while.”

While in playing bantam AAA hockey in Spruce Grove, Jordin encountered racism and prejudice from time to time.

“I took that negative situation and turned it into something to motivate me in a positive direction. I couldn’t let it get to my head. I think that is where many young native players get discouraged. I know people were jealous, and wanted me to fail, but that only made me try harder to succeed.”
After a season in Spruce Grove, Jordin made the roster of the OCN Blizzard, of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. The team included a number of native players, including Jordin’s brother, Terence.

“Playing with the OCN Blizzard was a great experience for me, especially since I got to play with my brother. We had a great time.”

Both Tootoos had great success during their Junior careers. Both were members of Team Indigenous, traveling to Finland to compete. Jordin played in the 2003 World Junior championships, helping to lead Team Canada to a silver medal. He also became the first Inuit ever to be drafted by an NHL team when he was selected by the Nashville Predators in the 2001 NHL entry draft. And when Terence was signed to the Roanoke Express for the 2001-02 season, he became the first Inuit to play professional hockey.

Yet, tragedy struck last Fall when Terence passed away, leaving Jordin to carry the weight of Rankin Inlet on his shoulders, with all of North American watching, wondering how he would handle the biggest challenge of his life. For Jordin, there was no choice. Already eating, drinking, breathing, and living hockey, Jordin not only persevered, but excelled as he dedicated his final year of Junior hockey and the World Junior tournament to his brother. For a family as close as the Tootoos are, it was very difficult year, but family is what kept them going.

Jordin continues to be a role model for kids at many levels. His unyielding dedication to everything he does is part of who he is, as a hockey player, Inuit, and son. He enjoys speaking to kids.

“I enjoy the opportunities to visit schools and talk to the kids. I believe education is the most important factor in life, and I always encourage the kids to finish school. My parents had a rule of no school, no hockey. I think everyone needs to graduate from high school, and everyone should have the chance to go to college or university. Hockey is always going to be there, but getting an education is the most important part of being successful in life.”

Achieving success in hockey is like anything else in life. When asked in our interview a year and half ago, Jordin had some additional advice for young people with aspiring dreams.

“Take advantage of what life gives you, and use it positively. There is always time to have fun, but know when to be responsible. You’re always going to have to sacrifice some things to get what you really want. You really have to work hard to reach your goals in life. If you want to be a good hockey player, you have to work hard everyday to become a good hockey player.”

Making the roster of the Nashville Predators this year is proof that following his philosophy can help you achieve your dreams.

Jordin and the rest of the Tootoo family carry on without Terence, but will forever have a part of their life that is missing. Terence was wonderful brother and son, and his memory will always be with them. Nativehockey.com wishes the best of luck to Jordin and his entire family, and will continue to leave the Terence Tootoo Memorial Board up where thoughts and prayers can be shared with family and friends.