Canucks legend Gino Odjick gets Hall call, continues to inspire Indigenous youth
A few years ago, Gino Odjick was in hospital fighting for his life. Now, the Vancouver Canucks legend is the newest member of the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame.
Through it all, the humble hockey tough guy has continued to serve as a role model inspiring Indigenous youth.
“I was in shock,” Odjick told CTV News Vancouver during an interview at his home, describing the moment he found out he had been selected for the hall of fame.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this is happening.’”
Odjick, who is Algonquin from Kitigan Zibi near Maniwaki, Que., is the 13th Canuck elected to the BCSHOF, but just the first who is Indigenous.
“He doesn’t take that for granted,” said Peter Leech, a retired pro hockey player and close friend of Odjick. “He wants to help and support as much as possible wherever he can.”
The pair frequently travels together to Indigenous communities to speak to young people about their experience and encourage them in their endeavours.
“You know, we’re just two First Nations kids from a reserve and we were able to make it and you guys can make anything you want,” Odjick said about the message he shares with Indigenous youth.
Over eight seasons as a Canuck, Odjick established himself as one of the National Hockey League’s toughest players — amassing over 2,500 penalty minutes in his career.
“I knew what my job was. I was an enforcer and I was there to protect the smaller guys on the team,” Odjick said.
That role frequently involved sticking up for superstar Pavel Bure when other teams tried to rough up the talented goal scorer.
The two quickly became best friends on the team, and Odjick says the Russian Rocket was always grateful to have the fearsome enforcer by his side.
“He really appreciated what I did for him and he always thanked me,” Odjick said. “Whenever we had a two on one, instead of shooting, he would pass me the puck and give me an open net for a goal because he knew I liked to score goals too.”
The biggest fight of Odjick’s life actually came off the ice, long after he retired from professional hockey in 2002.
In 2014, he revealed he was battling a rare blood disorder and doctors didn’t expect him to survive.
Upon hearing the news, hundreds of fans turned up at a rally outside Vancouver General Hospital chanting the legend’s name.
With Leech pushing his wheelchair, Odjick went outside to greet the crowd, standing to wave in acknowledgment and sign a few autographs.
“I was really touched and I couldn’t believe that so many people showed up for me,” he said. “Things started going better after that.”
Doctors offered Odjick an experimental drug, which has worked. His condition is no longer considered terminal.
As the country confronts its history of colonial violence following this year’s confirmation of unmarked graves at a number of former residential schools across the nation, Odjick revealed the impact it has had on him.
As a child, his own father was separated from his family and forced into one of the institutions.
“He never really talked about it with us. So, you know, I got pretty emotional when I found out what happened in Kamloops and thought this must have happened in other places too,” said Odjick, who added he sees a lot more Canadians becoming aware of this country’s dark history.
“A lot of people have come up to me asking, ‘What can we do to help First Nations?’ I say, ‘Well, you know, starting to understand and support us is what you can do.’”
That’s a commitment Odjick has always taken personally. For his next project, he hopes to work with the Canucks to establish a scholarship for Indigenous youth.