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Letter from Gino Odjick

Vancouver Canucks

Thursday, 26.06.2014 / 10:28 PM / News


 
 
 

Dear friends, teammates, and fans,

We have shared many great moments together over the years, but today I need to share news about the biggest fight of my life.

About two months ago I was diagnosed with a rare terminal disease called AL amyloidosis. It’s causing abnormal protein to be produced and deposits are being formed on my heart. It’s hardening my heart and my doctors aren’t sure how long I have to live. Initially they thought years, but now they think it could be a lot less. I could be down to months or even weeks.

I began fighting this disease a few days after Pat Quinn’s ring of honour night. I went to the hospital because I was short of breath and 48 hours later I received the news. I’ve been in the hospital under the supervision of some great doctors ever since. I also have the support of my kids, my sisters, my family and some great friends.

I’m telling you about this now because news is beginning to leak out and I wanted you to hear it from me. I also want you to know that my spirit is strong even if my body isn't. I'm going to use all of my time to be with my kids and everyone I love.

I feel very fortunate for my life. During my career I played in some great NHL cities including, Vancouver, Long Island, Philadelphia and Montreal. In my heart, I will always be a Canuck and I have always had a special relationship here with the fans. Your "Gino, Gino" cheers were my favorite. I wish I could hear them again. You have been amazing.

My teammates became like brothers and am thankful I had the opportunity this past year to re-unite with so many of them. I'll never forget my first NHL game against Chicago and my first goal. It also means the world to me that my hockey career gave me a chance to open doors for kids in Aboriginal community. I was just a little old Indian boy from the Rez.  If I could do it, so could they. My hope is that my hockey story helps show kids from home what's possible. I always tell them that education is freedom.

I also made some great friends through hockey and away from the ice as well. Life-long friends who have been with me as I lived out my dream on the ice. It made the journey that much more special and cherished.

This isn't goodbye, but I wanted you to know what is happening. I'm going to stay strong and I hope to spend as much time with my kids as possible.

I understand the media will likely want to learn more, but I hope you can respect my request for privacy as I focus my time on my children and family.

- Gino

Gino Odjick’s last fight: Beloved Canucks enforcer battles terminal heart disease

By Ed Willes, The Province June 26, 2014 10:33 PM
 

Gino Odjick (left) and Pavel Bure arrive at the rink for practice in 1994.

Photograph by: Mark van Manen , PNG

 

Gino Odjick enters the cafeteria at Vancouver General Hospital with the aid of a walker.

He’s toting an oxygen tank and he shows the signs of two weeks of chemotherapy. At this moment, it’s hard to reconcile the man you see with the enforcer who took on all comers and became one of the most popular players in Vancouver Canucks’ history.

But then he speaks. Then you know the fighter remains.

“I’m in good spirits and I”m going to do the best I can to fight this,” says Odjick. “Just because it’s diagnosed one way doesn’t mean it’s going to go that way.

“I’ll let the chips fall where they may. I’m prepared. I’m not accepting it yet but I’m prepared.”

Earlier in the day, his good friend Pat Quinn talked about Odjick’s spirit; how, through his many battles on and off the ice, there was something indomitable about his former player. You still see this. It’s hard when you see what disease has done to him but there remains a big part of the man who will not be defeated.

Odjick has been told his time might be measured in months, if not weeks. In mid-April, shortly after the ceremony that inducted Quinn into the Canucks’ Ring of Honour, he became short of breath. Two days later he was diagnosed with cardiac amyloidosis, a rare heart condition in which a protein, produced in the bone marrow, forms deposits in the heart. The form he has is considered terminal.

A heart transplant won’t work. Neither will a bone-marrow transplant. There are experimental treatments in Europe but the best hope is doctors can buy Odjick some time.

“You don’t think when you’re 43 years old they’re going to tell you you’ve got one year to live,” he says. “It was the last thing on my mind. There’s been a lot of soul searching.”

He’s asked if he’s found any answers.

“Not yet. All I can do is the best I can do every day. But there comes a point when I have to make plans to enjoy the last year and that’s where we’re at right now.”

Odjick, of course, has lived a thousand lives during his 43 years. He was born on an Algonquin reserve just outside of Maniwaki, Que., before leaving to play in Hawkesbury as a 16-year-old. After two seasons with Laval in the Quebec league, the Canucks made him a fifth-round draft pick in the 1990 draft. Odjick would be called up from Milwaukee partway through the next season. He would play in Vancouver for eight years.

“The amazing thing about Gino is how fast he improved,” said Canucks president Trevor Linden, Odjick’s teammate through the ’90s. “When he got called up we were thinking, ‘How’s he going to help us?’ Then we saw how hard he played and his heart. And he kept getting better.”

He wasn’t a star. Odjick played 605 NHL games because he was a much better fighter than a player. But he could fill a third- or fourth-line role and in 1993-94, his most productive season, he scored 16 goals.

By then, Odjick had become a fixture in the Canucks locker-room. He became close friends with Pavel Bure and something of a folk hero in Vancouver. Odjick didn’t have a great deal of formal education but, according to Quinn, he had an unerring instinct for doing and saying the right thing in the locker-room.

“He’s a very sharp guy,” Quinn said.

It almost goes without saying his former teammates have rallied around him. Quinn and Linden have been regular visitors to VGH along with Kirk McLean, Garry Valk, Geoff Courtnall and Stan Smyl.

Quinn, who’s been in Toronto at Hall of Fame meetings, was asked about his relationship with Odjck.

“You know how I feel about him,” he answered. “I’ve get to get out there (to VGH). I need to see him. I just need to see him.”

“We all grew up together,” said Linden. “He was such a lovable guy. I can’t tell you how much fun we had. There was never a dull moment with Gino. I think that’s what people loved about him. He’s not a cookie-cutter personality.”

That’s putting it mildly. In retirement, Odjick emerged as both a business leader and role model in the aboriginal community. He’s also battled substance-abuse issues as well as mental illness. He lost his father, Joe, in November, drove from Vancouver to Maniwaki, then checked into the psychiatric ward of Pierre Janet Hospital Centre in Gatineau. Que.

That story made national news. Shortly before Christmas, Odjick, who had 160 fights in the NHL, phoned me from Edmonton and talked about his battles.

“What’s the difference between depression and concussions?” he said at one point. “It is what it is but I’m not going to lie down and die. I’m going to make a difference. They’re telling me one thing but I’m going to fight with what have. I believe I’ll live until I’m 150.”

Later in that same interview, Odjick said his life’s mission was to eradicate poverty among First Nations people. He said this matter-of-factly, the way another person might say their life’s mission is to retire at 60. He travelled all over B.C. to aboriginal communities where he was treated like a rock star.

One friend tells a story about how Odjick connected with a 13-year-old boy up north. The kid had never been farther than Williams Lake and said his dream was to go the PNE. Odjick arranged to fly the family to Vancouver but it was his reaction after this good deed that stayed with his friend.

“He told me we’ve got to reach more people,” Odjick’s pal said. “Some of these people have never had a chance. We have to give them a chance.”

Says Odjick: “I really did the best I could do there, to create opportunity and to let people know there were opportunities. I’m really proud of that part.”

And he’s proud of his eight children, who remain his priority. They range in age from 11 to 27 — one son is named Bure after his former teammate — and most of them live back East.

“I’m going to go back East in a bit,” he says. “I’ve got to spend some time with my kids. Then we’ll go from there.”

He understands his situation; understands this could be the end of his journey. But if he’s feeling sorry for himself, he does a good job of hiding it. Whatever time he has left will be devoted to his children and his people. That’s all that’s important right now.

Come to think of it, that’s all that’s ever been important.

“It’s beyond that now,” he answers when asked if he’s ever wondered, ‘Why me?’ “Now, it’s what can I do to make this better.”

“Hopefully, he fights for himself now,” says Quinn.

And he will fight on. No matter how this ends, he will fight on.

ewilles@theprovince.com

twitter.com/willesonsports

            

This highlight wasn't what Gino was known for ...

but it still my favorite Gino moment by far. 

Gino Odjick Career Stats 

Gino Odjick was the key to Bure's number retirement

 
Gino Odjick was the key player in the saga to retire Bure's jersey
By Jason Botchford, The Province November 3, 2013
 
Gino Odjick was the key player in the saga to retire Bure's jersey
Ex -Vancouver Canuck Gino Odjick with former coach Pat Quinn and mother and wife of Pavel Bure during his jersey retirement ceremony at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, BC, on November 2, 2013.
Photograph by: Staff Photographer , PNG
 
To understand the story of how Pavel Bure went from vilified, dissociated ex-Canuck to celebrated icon who received the organization's greatest honour, you have to travel back some 20 years and land in a hotel on East Hastings.

The Atrium Inn is where Gino Odjick lived, and socialized, back in the early 1990s. You could find him there on the regular, in the hotel bar and restaurant, and much of the time he was with Bure.

As Bure explained when asked to describe this long, close friendship with Odjick this week: "We were young. We were single. We had a lot of fun."

The pair would go on to forge a friendship so close that the Russian hall-of-famer wanted Odjick on the ice with him when he watched his jersey raised to the Rogers Arena heavens Saturday.

"When I played, if anyone went into Pavel's airspace, he was getting a beating," Odjick said. "In the last four years of my career, we didn't play together. But no one dared touch him, even still.

"I was on another team and if they touched him, they were going to play me sooner or later. And that's just the way it was."

The Atrium was owned by a rich local family in the early 1990s: the Aquilinis. Fransceco Aquilini was in his early 30s, and would frequent that same hotel bar. A Canucks fan, he got a kick out of knocking back drinks and shooting the breeze with players.

With Odjick, Aquilini developed a relationship which would become a key reason the Canucks made the call, in 2012, to hang No. 10 nearly two decades later.

In the excitement that followed the Aquilinis taking control of the Canucks in 2004, Odjick let Francesco know he was willing to offer him free advice, from player to owner, from friend to friend.

But Odjick had two priorities. One, he was dedicated to efforts to eradicate First Nations poverty, and wanted support.

And two, he wanted to see Bure's number retired.

"I was crazy enough to believe Pavel could get into the Hall of Fame and he could get his jersey retired," Odjick said. "People kept saying it would never happen.

"I kept asking and asking. He was very skeptical at first, and didn't think it could be done.

"I just kept at it." During the next eight years, Odjick was one of the most consistent and persistent voices trying to work Aquilini, convincing the owner it was time to move past the awkwardly toxic relationship the team had with its greatest player, and honour Bure the right way.

There were others involved, but Odjick was the only one who had a direct line and influence with the Russian superstar.

The do-or-give-up-the-ghost moment came when Bure was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Some viewed it as potentially humiliating if the team's only Hall of Famer didn't have his number retired.

Odjick had implored Francesco to make the trip to Toronto for a dinner leading up to Bure's induction. If the owner didn't, Odjick was ready to give up hope anything was going to happen. And so was Bure.

"I got him to that dinner," Odjick said. "This doesn't happen without Pat Quinn at the Hall of Fame. And it doesn't happen without Francesco Aquilini.

"We never quit." The details of that dinner were reported in The Province back in November 2012.

It was a historic, summit meeting in which Aquilini outlined his plan to honour the most electrifying player in Canucks history.

The owner's plan, of course, became the organization's plan.

It meant the team had to alter criteria the Canucks had set for retiring numbers. To determine whether a player was worthy of the team's greatest honour, it was supposed to be a combination of great skill on the ice with a devotion to community service.

Bure always shied from the attention, so he was never going to get marks for his community service.

That didn't seem so important any more, when the owner wanted that number up in the rafters.

 

JANUARY 19, 2012

Gino Odjick: Algonquin Assassin


Gino Odjick is one of my all time favourite players. He was not much of a hockey player, but if you knew his back story you would know he is the kind of guy you could not help but cheer for.

For instance, did you know the story behind why Gino wore #29 in the NHL? When the church sent his father Joe off to residential school, they took away his name and gave him a number - 29.

Learn more about Gino Odjick here.