DETROIT – A pioneer as the first Inuit ever drafted by a National Hockey League team, Jordin Tootoo is set to play in his 500th career game when the Red Wings host the Anaheim Ducks tonight at Joe Louis Arena.
“Seems like yesterday when I started out in the league,” said Tootoo, who is still the only Inuit player to ever reach the NHL. “But I feel great after all of the years of battling in the corners and whatnot. … Just another game for me.”
Throughout his career, Tootoo has proven to be an effective agitator with versatility. Last season, he enjoyed the best offensive campaign of his eight-season career, producing six goals and 24 assists with the Nashville Predators, the team that took him in the fourth-round of the 2001 draft.
This season, Tootoo has two assists in 13 games with his new team. But his primary role – so it seems to be for now – is as an enforcer, which suits the veteran forward fine. Tootoo has more regular-season fights (65) than goals (46) in the NHL. He has fought four bouts for the Wings, who haven’t had a gritty element since Aaron Downey and Dallas Drake graced the roster.
For a player who hasn’t reached the playoff pinnacle, Tootoo said his most memorable moment in the NHL was the 2003-04 season-opener when the Preds hosted the Ducks.
“It was a huge milestone for me, but you know, you come to practices, you come to games, you prepare for whatever’s thrown at you and after all of these years I’m very fortunate for the opportunity for what I’ve been able to do,” Tootoo said. “I’m just happy to be a part of a special team.”
For a grinding type of player, longevity can often be cut short. But Tootoo says he’s managed to stay in the league because of his year-round commitment to health and fitness.
“Giving yourself every opportunity in the off-season to come into camp in great shape and looking after you both physically and mentally,” he said. “It’s a long haul throughout the year and I think during the off-season is the time to make sure that your body is 100 percent.”
Besides his milestone game, Tootoo will return to Nashville for the first time as a visiting player next Tuesday when the Predators host the Red Wings at Bridgestone Arena.
“Nashville has done tremendous things for me both on and off the ice,” he said. “I couldn’t thank Mr. (David) Poile and the coaching staff (enough) for giving me opportunities to put the jersey on. There are going to be a lot of emotions. But right now it’s about tonight. It’s one day at a time and when the time comes we’ll deal with it then.”
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