Interview with Jordin Tootoo

By pbadmin

Preface: Once in a while a player comes along that is special. People
take notice. Imagine a player that takes no prisoners, slashes through
the opposition and breaks down the myth that a small player just can’t
make it in a big man’s game. Suppose this player also had the raw
skills and strength to show well on the international stage. Meet
Jordin Tootoo of the Brandon Wheat Kings, of the Western Hockey League,

JA = John Agar, JT = Jordin Tootoo

JA: Thanks Jordin for helping us out at Hockey’s Future and reporting
on hockey’s future which I think you are going to be a big part of. I
have seen some very good things over the last few years; heard a lot
about you. A lot of people want to know about you, so we are very
grateful for your participation.

JT: Thanks John, for having me here too.

JA: Now Jordin, you were born in what year?

JT: I was born in 1983. February 2nd.

JA: So that puts you in what draft year?

JT: 01. 2001.

JA: Is that this year?

JT: Ya.

JA: Wow, that’s coming up fast! As a salesman would say. (Laugh).
That’s a big year. What are your physical stats, and not that you guys
get weighed regularly or not or height and stuff like that? But what
are they, or as close as possible?

JT: We do weigh in and weigh out every day before practice. I have been
averaging 185 to 187. Lose a couple pounds after practice, have a bite
to eat. The average every day is 183 to 185. I’m five foot nine. I ‘m
not the tallest guy around but you know I play like a guy whose over 6
foot, definitely.

JA: I would testify to that (laugh). We’ll get back to that later. So
how did you get your start in hockey?

JT: My father played a key role. He was a pretty good hockey player
back in his day. He played up in Thompson, Manitoba senior leagues.
He’s well known up in upper Manitoba, northern Manitoba. There’s ice
all over back home, we grew up with ice. I strapped on a pair of skates
when I was about 2-1/2. Just went from there.

JA: Was that something your father initiated, or you just wanted to do
right from the get go?

JT: That’s what I wanted to do right from the get go you know. That’s
what I wanted right from a little kid.

JA: You didn’t know any different (laugh). You could have been born
with them on. That’s cool. You already mentioned your father and he’s
well known up in Thompson. My next question was what were your
mentors? Tell us more about your Dad. I hear he was a very tough
player, he had people’s respect.

JT: He was a tough player, scoring goals. He wasn’t the most physical
guy around. He threw a lot of points on the board. He’s not all that
overly big. He’s maybe the same height as Theoren Fleury, but he was in
the corners.

JA: He was 6 foot tall too (laugh)?

JT: He was in the corners digging. He just had the heart and

JA: That’s what I had heard. Not tough in the over the top take all
comers, but a gritty in your face type of player.

JT: Oh ya, definitely. He was just one of those committed kind of
Once you step on the ice, your there to get the W. That’s what he was
paid for.

JA: So I guess you saw a lot of that?

JT: I watched him as a young kid. He’s buddies off the ice, but once
you step on the ice it’s all business.

JA: Nothing personal (laughing).

JT: Same as me. I played with a lot of kids on the under 18 team. We
friends off the ice, but once you step on the ice, it’s two different
people. You don’t take nothing for granted.

JA: I can understand that. I really do. Anybody else you could

JT: My parents definitely. Mother, she’s there for me.

JA: Hockey Mom’s are universal. They go hand in hand with success, to
facilitate that enjoyment, never mind the participation, never mind the
success. 4:44

JT: You know with my Mom she’s one of those kind of ladies that are in
your face. That’s probably where I get most of my toughness, from my
Mother. She likes the roughness. She came to Brandon last year, I got
into a scrap, she gave me a pat on the back. She likes the roughness.

JA: So that would be quite a big difference from what I see in most
Mom’s, even the players that have made the big time and might have the
role where they are supposed to reject that toughness. Usually they’re
sitting there saying they can’t watch the game. So, that’s pretty

JT: My Mom is different. She’s different. She’s different than most
Mom’s. That’s what I like about by Mom.

JA: That really cool. That might explain a few things about you.
Do you have any heroes?

JT: No. No, not really.

JA: No adulation? Everything’s pretty much things in it’s place. No
Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull?

JT: No. I don’t have any specific players.

JA: When did you know you had better than average ability?

JT: I always grew up playing with guys older than me. My dad coached my
brother too and he’s the guy I went out and skated with, guys a couple
years older than me. Once I moved down to Alberta and played AAA I was
one of those type of players that never took crap from anyone, because I
always had to play bigger than what I was. That is probably when I
found I had more of jump on most of the kids that were the same age as

JA: So when you realized that, did it cause you to or focus you on what
you had to practice on and if that was the case what did you work on or
what did you know you had to work on?

JT: You know I like to look at the positive stuff. I had to see the ice
mentally better, read plays, anticipate. I had to get physically
stronger. I was moving up and you always want to play at the highest
level possible you can. I focus more on the mental part of the game. I
know I have what it takes to, what you need to be in the Western Hockey
League…. strength and size (Laughing).

JA: We both smiled when you said that. Jordin, where did you play minor
hockey, and how did that shape or hinder your game?

JT: I played it back home in Rankin Inlet.

JA: Where’s Rankin Inlet?

JT: It’s straight north of Winnipeg on the Hudson Bay in, Nunavut.

JA: So what is the distance between Winnipeg and Rankin Inlet? Do you

JT: Something like 800 air miles from Churchill, straight north.

JT: There’s no road?

JA: Nothing. No road. Winter road maybe.

JA: Winter road for bring in supplies in the winter?

JT: And we get the barge a couple of times in the summer.

JA: Definitely not the suburbs. So Rankin Inlet, how old were you then?

JT: Right from when I was born. I was born right up there. I started
off playing when I was about five years old, when I started getting into
the real stuff I guess. When I was 8 or 9 I played guys who were 11, 12
years old. I don’t see that around here too often, here you have to be
within your age group. Up there you can, it depends on what your family
has to say about it. You can let your kid go up between older age
groups to develop.

JA: It never per-say hurt you? I’m sure it hurt at times.

JT: I just toughed it out. It just comes within being a hockey player.
You have to take pain. It just happens. You get hurt once and a while.

JA: It’s the nature of the game. Now, that was the early stage and you
said you moved down to Alberta to play organized hockey. Is that what

JT: Ya. Pretty much my dad bought me a one way ticket to Edmonton.

JA: What age was that?

JT: First year Bantam

JA: That was 13…14.

JT: 14.

JA: How was that f
or you?

JT: Major culture change. Major culture shock, big time. All these
trees around, vehicles flying all over and you’ve got paved roads.

JA: We take that for granted. I would imagine if we got a one way
ticket to Rankin Inlet, we might have something to say too.

JT: You know when I first moved to Edmonton I was in the suburb of
Spruce Grove. I just stayed home, never went out. I was not used to
having different people around. Back home we knew every one, we grew up
with the same kids.

JA: That may not have helped you, you might have perceived at the time,
but do you think that has helped you now, being on your own?

JT: Oh ya definitely. Take responsibility for your actions. I always
look before I go do my actions. It just comes with you I guess, growing
up, being a way from home. I’ve been away 3, 4 years.

JA: It’s a way of life?

JT: I go back home a month, two months, it’s good enough for me. I love
being home. It’s just there’s not much up there to do. Go hunting,

JA: Definitely that will have it’s place, more so someday. So if I read
your impression right, the main thing when you made your move it wasn’t
so much from the hockey you learned anything from, it was the experience
outside of hockey, the challenges around having to move and play the
hockey was the biggest thing.

JT: Absolutely…Absolutely.

JA: What was the step to the Western Hockey League like? What were the
biggest challenges and adjustments?

JT: Just being mentally prepared is probably one of the major

JA: Now you say mentally prepared, like…?

JT: The grueling schedule we have, we have a practice every day. Going
to school on top of that. Going to school and on top of school, going
to practice every day for an hour and a half. We play 72 games. It’s
tough on your body. You get mentally abused, I guess. It’s hard on
you. You just got to deal with it. Take it day by day.

JA: So being locked in a room with Coach Bobby Lowes while you study is
sort of a break?

JT: Uhhhh no (Lots of laughter). I enjoy every part of it. You know
that’s what I’m here for. It starts from here I guess. You have
nothing to look back on. You just have to go forward. Go with your
instincts I guess. You’ve got to do what’s best for you.

JA: So what would be your highlights from the last two years for you?

JT: Coming along. I definitely made my debut last year, my first year
in the Western Hockey League. Being a role model for all the younger
native kids. I’m proud of having that role I guess. There’s a lot of
kids out on the reserves and back home. I’m just one of the examples,
you have to leave home to pursue a better career if you want to be a
hockey player. You can’t always be at home. There’s a lot of positive
things to look forward to in life. You’ve got to make that first step
and you’ve got to fight through it. When I first moved away from home,
I called pretty much every day “I wanna go home” and all that stuff.
My parents helped me out a lot. There’s a lot of good hockey players up
north and the only reason why they don’t want to come down south is
because of the culture change probably and not knowing anyone.

JA: That would be a reason why I don’t think anybody from the rest of
North America would understand.

JT: It’s tough. Tough to deal with. A lot of racism that goes on.
You’ve got a let those things fly by your head.

JA: Welllll….?

JT: I had a couple incidents last year where I had a couple of racial
slurs out on the ice and it ticked me off a bit.

JA: And to your credit, we don’t hear about that.

JT: There trying to crack down on that big time. I think that’s a good

JA: That’s a fair thing. Your there to play hockey. This summer you
were selected and played for Canada’s Under 18 team. Tell us about

JT: All summer, before I cracked the lineup, I was thinking to myself,
what do I have to do to get on that roster. So I just worked hard every
day. I didn’t try to think about it too much. Once I found out I had
cracked the lineup I just stayed with the same schedule I was going
through. I didn’t change anything in my work out. I think there are a
lot of kids who make teams like that go around and start talking. I’m
not one of those kind of guys who are cocky and talk. Unless someone
wants to talk. We went out to Calgary the beginning of August. Got to
know the guys. Great group of guys. We did a lot of team building. It
was a great experience.

JA: So the main thing you got out of it was you learned what it takes to
build a team and the quality of individuals that could make that team?

JT: Oh definitely. We had a group of guys who had great skill and we
were all there for the love of the game. We went into the tournament
saying we were going to come out with the gold medal. The guys all
pulled through and we worked hard, gave all we got every game. We just
played Canadian hockey.

JA: I know it’s sort of an obscure tournament. But it is the Under 18
World Championship, in essence, I think for people in the know. We were
proud of you. And we got a picture of you, I made sure of that. Going
into an NHL draft this year, what do you think the Scouts see? The
knocks against you, strengths they see, what you need to do this year.
Not to impress, but want to work on.

JT: I tend not to think about my draft year coming up. My last year
showed what I’ve got. I got well known around the league. Now I just
have to put points up on the board and try and stay out of the box.
Pick and choose my spots. I’m still working on the mental part of my
game. That’s always one thing you need; there is always stuff you need
to learn.
I’m doing what I do best, I guess. Just playing rough, physical hockey.

JA: Tootoo hockey?

JT: I’m not going to change any part of my game. I’m still going to go
out and play the way I play. Play above my size.

JA: This is where you can get careful, and I understand. I have heard
some people say your a showboat, just out to hurt people. What do you
have to say to those comments.

JT: I just laugh at them pretty much. People around here know the way I
play. Things just don’t go my way sometimes when I go to hit the guy
and I knock him out or cut his face open just because I made an impact
on him. Guys that are 6 foot 4 and I knock them down, just goes to show
I’m not a dirty guy. I’m not a dirty guy, my elbows can’t reach their
face. The bigger guys are the guys I try to knock down, just to make
sure they know who I am out there. As far as being a dirty hockey
player I try not to be one of those types of players. Just the way I
play ticks people off and ticks the other players off and that is what
I like about it. It just makes me want to go out the next shift and
work harder.

JA: Well to your credit I would say I have never truly stick a player,
never seen you throw an elbow.

JT: I just laugh at those comments. What ever. Nothing to worry
about. Just people’s opinions.

JA: Jordin you touched on this before. I noted you have pride in your
aboriginal heritage. Tell us about that, elaborate.

JT: I come from a background where not too many people know who we are.
I come from a very isolated place. Not too many people down south here
know what we are made of I guess. I come down south here and I joke
around with the guys and they joke around. Native people…Indians.
People call me Indian and I don’t mind them calling me Indian. Inooks
and Indians are two different peoples. I like to be on both sides and
help the younger kids out, the kids that are struggling. I enjoy being
with kids going to the rinks and skating around with the young kids.

JA: You come by that honestly.

JT: Oh ya. You get some hockey players that are just
in it for
themselves. There are a lot native kids coming out to the games,
hanging around.

JA: I have noted an increase of that. I think that’s really good. In
Western Manitoba there is a quite large native community. It’s quite

JT: It gets the kids out of trouble. Now they have something to look up
for. Rather than looking for trouble. At a young age they can see they
can grow up to be something.

JA: They can think, I can do that to. With that understanding there has
got to be some pressure.

JT: You know I love pressure. I love being under the gun, in the heat
of things. Pressure makes me do things better. I’m just one of those
guys that can deal with pressure right at the moment. Look for the
positives once pressure comes to you. I don’t sit back and say “how can
I do this, how am I going to do this”. I can deal with pressure, on
and on. When me and the guys go out on the West Coast you get the fans
who are over the boards yelling at me, that makes me just want to work
harder, just to upset them more.

JA: Which players have you played with or against that have impressed
you? Any in your draft year?

JT: No.

JA: Your pretty focused on what you have to do and what you have to do
at the moment.

JT: Ya.

JA: You kind of touched on that earlier. It’s all business, your not
there observing.

JT: You know a guy from Swift Current plays for the Bronco’s, I played
with him as a young kid and we are buddies off the ice. When I step on
the ice you know I don’t take nothing back. I go in the corners, I
rough him up a bit.

JA: So your scouting days are a long way a way? (Lots of laughter).

JT: That’s for sure.

JA: That’s good to hear. Do you have any favorite NHL teams?

JT: Uh no. I just like to watch hockey. I have no specific.

JA: No present day players?

JT: No favorite player, other than Theo Fleury. He’s a dynamic player I
guess, only 5 foot 6 and he’s got a big heart.

JA: That goes back to the kids…things being possible.

JT: That’s where it comes from, your heart. How much you want it.

JA: So you made the Hockey News. What did you think of that?

JT: When did I make the Hockey News?

JA: (Laughter). We’ll print that one. See, that’s perfect because
that’s true to exactly what you said about being really focused on what
you have to do. Yeah, you’re in there. I’ll show you. If you had anything
to say anything to the scouts wondering about Jordin Tootoo that would
be a promise, what would that be?

JT: I don’t see what they see. I don’t have anything to say. It’s all
on the ice. What they see is what they get. I don’t really like
talking about myself. If they like it, what ever I’ve got, well…. I’m
just one of those type of guys who puts it out on the ice. I’m a pretty
positive role model. I put it all out on the line.

JA: I am what I am?

JT: Ya.

JA: Popeye?

JT: That’s pretty much what you get.

Prologue: Jordin and I talked on and off the record at length about his
development and young players development. We talked off record about
Wayne Gretzky’s idea about just letting the kids play on their own and
all together up until a certain age, without the strict organization of
adults. When you think about it, the earlier part of Jordin’s hockey
development formed in just this sort of environment; this made him much
of the type of player he is today. How did Jordin come across? Very
genuine, but nobody’s fool. A very rare composure and vision for such a
young person. One word comes to mind about Jordin Tootoo, describing
his evolution, his person on and off the ice; Courage. I had considered
the challenges he has faced coming from Nunavut, but did not really
realize the full scope of it until my wife came and talked to me about
Jordin after he left. My wife had spent a great deal of her childhood
in the Northwest Territories (much of it now Nunavut) and impressed upon
me how different Inuit culture is. We take the simple concept of a
clock in stride. Inook’s have no concept of time from their normal life
in comparison to our ridged, rat race style of a life. My wife noticed
Jordin was early. Something as subtle as an adjustment as this floored
me. Jordin has overcome many more challenges more un-subtle than this.
Jordin equals Courage.