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Tootoo Talks Preds, Remembers Franchise That Helped Save His Life

Nashville Fan Favorite Returns for Jordin Tootoo Night to Be Honored by Organization

by Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten / Senior Communications & Content Coordinator

Preds Honor Jordin Tootoo

Current, former Preds reflect on playing with Tootoo

Barry Trotz, Shea Weber, Pekka Rinne and several others reflect on Jordin Tootoo's time with the Predators

  • 01:13 •

It was the meeting that saved his life.

Jordin Tootoo was summoned to David Poile's Bridgestone Arena office in December of 2010, just a few days before Christmas.

A fan favorite on the ice in Nashville, Tootoo thought he had everything under control, but that wasn't the case. On that December day, it was Poile, as well as former Predators Head Coach Barry Trotz, who laid it on the line.

They needed Tootoo to seek professional help to deal with his alcohol abuse issues, or his NHL career - and even his life - could be over in an instant.

As Tootoo recalls, that was all he needed to hear. He hasn't had a drink since.

So, when he steps into Bridgestone Arena on Saturday night as the Preds host the Dallas Stars for Jordin Tootoo Night - on his 36th birthday, no less - he'll be doing so having come such a long way from that intervention over eight years ago.

"There's been a lot of emotion starting to flood through the mind," Tootoo said of returning to Music City. "Just reminiscing on my time in Nashville, a place where I kind of grew up and really evolved into the person I am today, I'm excited."

It probably didn't seem possible way back when that a celebration like this would ever be possible. But now, still sober, and with a wife and two daughters, Tootoo will be honored in the city by the franchise that helped turn him into the man he is today.

Originally selected by the Predators in the fourth round of the 2001 NHL Draft, Tootoo became the first Inuk player to skate in the League, making his debut in the 2003-04 season. With his reckless abandon on the ice, seemingly willing to run into anyone and everyone who wasn't sporting the same uniform he was, Tootoo earned the love of the Predators faithful as Tootoo train whistles began to pop up in the crowd, reverberating every time he made an impact.

But for every hit, every fight, every goal that brought palpable life to the bench and the building, there was also a battle Tootoo was dealing with beneath the roar of the crowd, away from the rink.

"A lot of people don't understand that as professional athletes, a lot of us fight a fight no one knows about," Tootoo said. "For me, that was alcoholism."

Growing up in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, Tootoo was brought up in a household where alcohol was the norm. Already part of a potentially toxic environment, Tootoo lost his brother, Terrance, to suicide in 2002. That only made things worse.

As Tootoo became a regular in the Nashville lineup, he was living his dream. A kid from Nunavut, just about as far north as one can go and find civilization, had made it to the bright lights.

And it was all in danger of crashing down.

But then, he stepped into Poile's office.

"I thought I had control of [my drinking], but when David Poile and Barry Trotz offered the probably the best gift in my life in going to treatment, it was a turning point in my life. It just goes to show that the organization cares about their players on a personal level, not just the hockey player, but personally their well-being. Eight years later, I'm still sober and very grateful."

A career-high, 30-point season followed in 2011-12, and while it ended up being his last in Nashville, the city in Tennessee was set to be a part of him forever.

Tootoo had stints in Detroit, New Jersey and Chicago to finish out his career, a tally that ended with 723 games played, 161 points and 1,010 penalty minutes, pretty darn impressive, all things considered.

In 2014, Tootoo wrote a book with author Stephen Brunt, entitled "All The Way: My Life On Ice" as a way to not only tell the world his story, but also to recount everything he'd been through for himself.

"When I sobered up, I had to relearn how to communicate and talk about my emotions," Tootoo said. "In writing my book, it was a three-year process throughout my sobriety and it really helped get a lot of weight lifted off my shoulders. It taught me that when you're able to converse about your feelings and what's going on, it really makes life a lot easier.

"I grew up where everything happened behind closed doors and you kind of shut up and put up with it, and I think when you have clarity and you're content in your own skin, the doors of opportunities are wide open."

After leaving Nashville, Tootoo remained a positive contributor to his other clubs, but he always looked best with a Predators crest on his chest. Now, he'll get the opportunity to don it once more and reminisce on where he's been, and where he still wants to go.

Tootoo is active in working with children from his home to reach their dreams and realize there is a positive life for everyone, no matter the circumstances. This is done through his Team Tootoo Fund with the goal of helping a wide range of charitable causes including nonprofits addressing suicide awareness and prevention, as well as those supporting youth at risk.

"A lot of our remote communities don't have indigenous role models, and for me to connect with them and tell my story, I think they can really relate and help them see light at the end of the tunnel," Tootoo said. "It doesn't matter where you come from or what color your skin is; we're all put on this earth for a reason and it's just about finding your purpose, your meaning.

"For me to share my story, and hopefully help one or two kids or teenagers, puts a smile on my face. I just want to let them know that it's OK to fail, it's part of growing up and learning from your mistakes."

Tootoo is prepared for the emotions to run rampant as he steps into the building where he life began to change for the better. Sure, he's done it countless times as a player, but never under these circumstances, to honor what he did for this franchise.

But, if it weren't for this franchise, Tootoo might not be here at all.

As he looks at his wife, Jennifer, and his young daughters, Siena and Avery, he realizes he wouldn't have any of this if he wasn't sober.

Nashville helped save him, in every way a person can be saved. And for that, he'll be forever indebted.

"I just want to say I'm very grateful that I'm able to be home on a daily basis to watch my daughters grow up," Tootoo said. "Now, I just have the biggest smile on my face."

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