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Know the enemy

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

I have a confession to make: I’m the proud owner of a Jordin Tootoo jersey.

Give me a second to explain, angry mob, don’t light up those torches and put the pitchforks down.

In 1999, by some divine miracle, I got my driver’s licence, meaning the crew and I were finally free to go where we wanted, when we wanted.

I hail from Brandon, Manitoba, so naturally the only place we wanted to go was the Keystone Centre to watch the Brandon Wheat Kings. The reason: a 5-foot-9, 182-pound Tasmanian devil with the last name Tootoo and the number 22.

Tough as nails and just as stubborn, Tootoo, in just his fourth home game with the Wheaties, dropped the gloves with Colton Orr of the Swift Current Broncos for his first major junior fight.

In 45 games during that rookie season, the now 28-year-old native of Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, currently a member of the Nashville Predators and the first player of Inuit descent to play in the NHL, had six goals and 10 assists alongside a mammoth 214 penalty minutes.

A year earlier Tootoo was named Rookie of the Year, Most Popular Player, and Scholastic Player of the Year with the OCN Blizzard of the MJHL, so he had a reputation as a difference maker and, based on my swift purchase of a Tootoo Wheat Kings jersey that first year, he made it in Brandon.

Now Tootoo, whose middle name is Kudluk, the Inuktitut term for thunder, is a thunderous difference maker and lightning rod of physicality for Nashville and he has been for the past seven seasons.

Fights are second nature to the scrappy forward; he’s traded punches in 57 NHL fights to date, two of those coming against Kevin Bieksa (October 21, 2006) and Alex Burrows (January 1, 2009).

When he’s not hitting, Tootoo has a desire to crush everything on the ice that moves and has 537 hits, including one in a 1-0 loss to Vancouver Thursday night, to show for his last 365 games, playoffs included.

Tootoo daringly throws his body around and is often deemed overly aggressive, but that’s his game, it always has been and it always will be.

The Tootoo train is full steam ahead and at some point in this Western Conference Semifinal series, the Canucks will be challenged by him. How they respond is yet to be seen.

“I think all agitators are different in their own right, I think he’s probably not going to talk a whole lot out there, he’s just going to try to finish every check and make the game hard on you,” said Canucks defenceman Aaron Rome, who battled with Tootoo for four seasons in the WHL.

Although he's viewed as a wrecking ball on skates today, there was once a time when Tootoo was a feared scorer in the WHL, right up there with Brooks Laich and Nigel Dawes.

Tootoo has 40 goals and 55 assists in 409 career games with the Predators and three goals and six assists in 31 playoff games, so he’s not the same fireball with the puck as he was back in Brandon, or with Team Canada at the 2003 IIHF World U-20 Hockey Championship.

Still, take his selective offence for granted and he’ll make you pay. Just ask the Anaheim Ducks.

Of his nine career playoff points, Tootoo picked up five in the opening round of this year’s playoffs with a goal and four assists (every assist recorded in the final two games of the series) to help Nashville advance to the second round for the first time in franchise history.

“He’s a pretty versatile player,” noted Rome. “In junior he was a player who could score goals and he was more of a goal scorer then, very good shot, very underrated shot, and he goes hard to the net and into the hard areas.

“If he’s not banging bodies, he’ll surprise you with his shot and with his creativity, so you’ve definitely got to be aware of him.”

Tootoo wasn’t much of a factor in Game 1 other than that he was on the receiving end of a Keith Ballard hip-check that was deemed ‘clipping’ by the officials.

Here’s hoping the hits continue to dished out by Vancouver and no Canucks end up tied to the tracks when the Tootoo train rolls through.

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