Jordin Tootoo knows first-hand about domestic violence. In his midlife memoir “All the Way“, The 5’9” right winger, Nunavut’s first NHL player, recounts his life, including his journey to the big league, an autobiography written with journalist Stephen Brunt. Tootoo saw it as a kid in Rankin Inlet, a town edging Hudson’s Bay.
“For my parents, drinking starts out as a social thing,” he writes, “but then that social thing turns into fricking abuse and then into violence and that’s when it takes control over them…”
Abuse and alcohol were a continual theme in his early life and Tootoo and his older brother, Terence, stayed on the rink playing hockey as much as they could to stay away from the madness of binge drinking at home.
Tootoo became the first Inuk player to make it to the NHL and, according to Brunt, was an “undersized guy who fought himself, almost literally, into major junior hockey and then into the National Hockey League.”
In 2002, when Tootoo was playing Junior hockey for the Brandon Wheat Kings in Brandon, Manitoba, his brother came for a visit. Terence had been playing for the East Coast Hockey League’s Roanoke Express and was set to return to the US for a tryout when he got stopped by the police and was found to be over the legal alcohol limit. Hours later, he committed suicide and was found in bushes behind the home where Jordin was being billeted. Before the body was found, Tootoo found a note in his bedroom that he found odd:
Do well, Jor. Go all the way. Take care of the family. You‘re the man, Ter.
Filling the Void
“When you lose someone that important to you and you don’t understand why, it’s pretty tough to get over. I used alcohol and women to try and fill that void,” Tootoo is quoted as saying in an article on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police website. That article, from May, 2015 announced Tootoo’s participation in an upcoming public service announcement to focus on violence against women and girls.
After Terence’s suicide, Tootoo’s own off-ice issues eventually came to a head: his NHL team for eight seasons, the Nashville Predators, sent him to rehab for his drinking problems. Former girlfriend, country star Kellie Pickler, wrote and performed a song (with help from Taylor Swift) called “Best Days of Your Life” about their breakup that became a hit; in the video, the man resembles Tootoo and the woman he’s left Pickler for resembles a much less glamourous version of Tootoo’s wife of over a year, Jennifer Salvaggio. Tootoo, who played last season for the New Jersey Devils and enters the 2016-17 season as a 33-year old free agent, announced on Instagram last week the birth of his and Jennifer’s first child, a baby girl.
Sober for more than four years now, Tootoo has certainly had many demons to fight and obstacles to overcome to get him to where he is now. Tootoo, speaking directly to men and boys, is a fitting spokesman for the RCMP’s Public Service Annnouncement, saying violence against women and girls is unacceptable, Although the PSA is aimed at men and boys in Indigenous communities since Aboriginal women in Canada face a higher risk of violence and homicide than any other group, the message, which has Tootoo skating with a team of First Nation youngsters from Fort McKay, Alberta, can be embraced by all of us.