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All Aboard

by Andrea Nelson / Detroit Red Wings
Jordin Tootoo at Joe Louis Arena (Photo by Dan Mannes)

DETROIT – The last time Jordin Tootoo came to the Joe Louis Arena, he got a quick glimpse of Detroit’s rich history. Name after name, trophy after trophy, greeted him as he walked to the opponent’s locker room.

Now he’s ready to see his own name on those walls.

“It’s an Original Six team and the history that’s gone on here is just, you can go down the list,” Tootoo said of why he’s looking forward to being a Red Wing. “I think for me, I’m just going to be me and come to work every day and I want to win a Stanley Cup. I feel that the opportunity here is as best as you’re going to get in the league.”

It was a day of firsts for Tootoo. He visited Detroit’s locker room, stood in front of his new locker and pulled the Red Wings jersey over his head for the first time. He looked right at home in red and white.

“First and foremost I’d just like to thank the organization for letting me come on board and as for expectations, every year you want to be the best you can,” Tootoo said. “Right now this is all new to me so it’s going to take a little while to get used to. But this is a time for me that I feel that’s right for change so it’s an exciting time of year.”

Signing with the Red Wings was Tootoo’s first organizational change during his NHL career. The right wing played for the Nashville since being drafted by the Predators in 2001. But he felt it was time for a change of scenery.

“It happened pretty quick,” Tootoo said of signing with the Red Wings. “I mean July 1st I was talking to a few other teams and then Detroit came over the top and obviously it was just the right fit for me to come in here and play the role that I play. I know the organization as we played against them over the years many times and I think the biggest thing was staying in the Western Conference, was a big part of it.”

Tootoo thinks the Western Conference’s style of play fits better with his own. After competing against him for the past eight seasons, the Red Wings know Tootoo’s gritty personality will have a significant impact on the ice.

“I’m pretty sure a lot of teams know my style and I think it’s just in my blood,” Tootoo said. “I’m a guy who gets out there and works. I love my teammates, I play for them and my ultimate goal is winning and I’m going to do whatever it takes. I’m fortunate to have that little spark in me that drives teams nuts and I think it’s going to be a great thing here.”

Jordin Tootoo (Photo by Dan Mannes)

His new teammates are certainly looking forward to it. They’re happy to no longer be on the receiving end of Tootoo’s aggressiveness. He’s already received a few phone calls welcoming him to Detroit.

Henrik Zetterberg called me shortly after I signed and welcomed me to the organization,”

Tootoo said. “I’ve been up in Nunavut, we don’t really have any communication up there it’s a little too far north but I’ve known Darren Helm for a number of years so it’s exciting and I’m looking forward to meeting everyone. This is a whole new experience for me. What’s gone on in the past is over and done with and all I can look forward to is tomorrow.”

Red Wings fans should be looking forward to seeing Tootoo in action. The 29-year-old was a fan favorite in Nashville because of his thunderous hits, and hopes to provide Hockeytown with the same entertainment.

“The fan base that the Red Wings have is second to none,” Tootoo said. “Anywhere out on the road there are fans everywhere. I’m soaking it all in too so I don’t know really exactly what the fan base is until I experience it.”

The first time Tootoo experiences Detroit’s fan base will be during the season-opener against the Nashville Predators. Playing against his former team will be emotional, but Tootoo is a pure Red Wing now.

“It’s exciting,” Tootoo said of playing against Nashville. “I think it’s going to be a different feeling dressing on this side of the room but at the end of the day my job is to help the Red Wings win and I’m going to do whatever it takes. It’s all new to me, I don’t know until the moment happens and go from there.”

Although Detroit is a new chapter in Tootoo’s career, he will never forget where he came from. Tootoo grew up in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, an Inuit hamlet on Hudson Bay. Compared to northern Canada, the Michigan winters he’s about to experience won’t be a challenge.

“I don’t know how far but it’s up there,” Tootoo said of his hometown. “There’s a lot of ice and snow and no trees so I think I’m going to be used to the weather here in Detroit. I went home a couple weeks ago and we were still ice fishing. It’s quite a ways up there. To me, home, I’m never going to forget my roots. I love my culture and tradition and that’s where I grew up and that’s where home is for me.”

When he was drafted by the Predators, Tootoo became the first Inuk player and the first player from Nunavut to play in the NHL. He understands that his success is an inspiration to young Inuits, but doesn’t let that pressure affect his performance.

“For me pressure is like constructive criticism,” Tootoo said. “I take that and I use that as a driving tool. As for putting more pressure on myself, no I look at it as first of many more. I’m just paving the way for young Inuit kids. I’ve been through a lot and I just want people out there to know that anything is possible, the sky is the limit. This world is a tough world to live in but when you have a great support system it makes it that much more easier.”

There’s nothing easy about playing in the NHL, but Tootoo feels he’ll have an easier path to the Stanley Cup as a Red Wing.

“I think over the last year and a half everything has just been really falling into place for me,” Tootoo said. “I feel that I’m in the prime of my career and this is the place that I feel we’re going to win a Stanley Cup.”

Tootoo’s name went on his new Red Wings jersey first. He hopes he’ll see it etched into the Stanley Cup next. Then it can go on the walls, next to the hundreds of people who helped win 11 championships before him, where his opponents will be sure to see it.

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