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Nashville fan favorite Tootoo returns a Red Wing

by John Manasso

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jordin Tootoo spent his first eight seasons in the NHL with the Nashville Predators and was a fan favorite.

When he stepped on the ice wearing his No. 22, the hoot of train whistles would cut through the sound at Bridgestone Arena, and when he crashed into an opposing player with one of his trademark hits, delight and applause would spring forth.

Tuesday, he will play his first game in his former city as a member of the Detroit Red Wings. Tootoo, 30, signed a three-year deal worth $5.7 million. Nashville, busy signing players it traded for last season (Hal Gill and Paul Gaustad), did not make much of an effort to re-sign Tootoo. Rich Clune has taken up Tootoo's role with Nashville.

The sight of Tootoo wearing red and white will take some getting used in this city.

"Obviously it's different," he said. "Everything about the whole experience. Dressing in this (visitors) room -- I've never been in this room before. Walking across the street, staying in a hotel, everything has been an experience in itself, but as a hockey player guys come and go and move from team to team. It's just part of it."

The Red Wings arrived Monday and practiced here, allowing Tootoo to get tend to the formalities.

"I got all my hellos and whatnot out of the way," he said. "I think driving around in a cab was a little different. Like I said before, I came in with an open mind. Tonight is another game day for me. I'll just see I'm just on the other side of the dressing room."

With 725 penalty minutes, Tootoo is the Predators' all-time leader in that category. True to form, he leads the Red Wings with 32 this season. He has two assists and is plus-1 in 15 games. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock credited him for his physical style of play.

It would not be a surprise if Tootoo elected to drop the gloves Tuesday, but if that were the case, he wasn't about to telegraph it.

"It's not set in stone," he said. "Like I said, a lot of emotions that go throughout a game. For me, I've just got to go out and do my job and keep doing what I'm doing and obviously it's part of the game, being physical."

Asked if he would hesitate to hit a friend and former teammate in the corner, Tootoo did not hesitate, "Not at all. Not at all."

About the only remaining question, then, is how the fans will receive him. Recently, the Predators played a tribute video for longtime player Steve Sullivan (now with the Phoenix Coyotes) and they have in the past for Dan Hamhuis (Vancouver Cancuks) upon his return, as they have for others.

"I have no idea," Tootoo said. "I'm just going to go out there and embrace it and enjoy every moment of it. I played a lot of years here. I've made a lot of great friends here and a lot of experiences I'll never forget, so I'll just soak it all in."

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