By JD Lagrange – On June 9th, Gino Odjick was inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame. While popular in Quebec, Odjick, who hails originally from the small Algonquin reserve of Kitigan Zibi, Que, is one of the most popular Vancouver Canucks. Gino is usually pretty sparse with his media appearance but he faced the music, so to speak, because of this induction.
Over his 12-year NHL career, Odjick played 605 games for the Canucks, the New York Islanders, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Montreal Canadiens.
“Pat Quinn, when I got to Vancouver, said, ‘I don’t want a goon. I want somebody who can play. I don’t want you just coming off the bench to fight. You have to contribute. You have to be part of the leadership group and I’m going to give you an opportunity every night to do something special’,” he said.
In 2014, Odjick was diagnosed with rare and potentially terminal heart disease AL amyloidosis, a condition that causes abnormal protein to be produced and deposited on the heart. As he did every night on the ice, Odjick battled. He underwent an experimental treatment in Ottawa, and over the course of several years the condition went into remission.
While in great spirit, you can tell in a recent radio interview that he is struggling to breath.
“My dad took me to the ring, it was an outside rink. He gave me a stick and gloves and I couldn’t skate very good so he gave me a chair to get my bearing under me and next thing I know, and next thing I know not too long after, I was skating on my own”, described Odjick about his first steps on the ice. “My dad put in a lot of time to teach me the game and to make me love the game the way I did.”
So when did he know that he had a shot at making a career out of it? He met a former Habs, another tough guy, who planted the seeds in his mind.
“When I was 18 years old, Gilles Lupien who was an ex-Montreal Canadiens, was an agent at the time and asked me if he could represent me because he saw a real opportunity to make a career out of it”, he said. “That’s when it hit me when I was 18 years old that if I worked hard and put in the time that I could earn a live out of it.”
“We went and played a game at the Montreal Forum and Jean Béliveau was an ambassador for the Canadiens, and he came out and met us, and gave us all autographs”, recalls Gino. “We were like ‘Wow, Mr. Jean Béliveau, he’s given us an autograph, he was the captain of the team and a huge part of it, a multiple Stanley Cup winner’ and he was just there just to met young kids, to make our dreams come true.”
“The Canadiens did a good job with their ambassadors and people getting into the community and meeting young people and making them fans for the rest of their lives.”
Always a Habs’ fan
The Montreal Canadiens have always held a special place in Odjick’s heart.
“I was a Habs’ fan. I remember when I was young, in the province of Quebec, when the Montreal Canadiens won, everybody was in a good mood and when they lost, everybody was pouting. It’s what hockey is in Quebec, it’s more than hockey, it’s religion. People are really huge fans there… like they are in BC.”
Looking back on his career, Gino has a lot to be proud of. He and the Vancouver Canucks came really close to make it two Canadian teams in a row to win the Stanley Cup. After the Canadiens won it in 1993, the Canucks made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals, only to fall short at the hands of Mark Messier and the New York Rangers in 1994. But what is he most proud of?
“Being a good teammate, be able to use my platform to encourage young first nations’ athletes to really focus on education, not only sports”, humbly said Odjick. “When I got there my first year, Ron Delorme did a hockey school in Lloydminster, AB. He told all of us that he wanted us to really give back to first nations’ communities, go visit communities and talk to as many first nations youth as you can. I always kept up to it to this day. I’m really proud of my hockey career but also proud of what I’ve been able to do outside the rink.”
And people still recognize him wherever he goes.
“It just amazes me 32 years later, people still remember. I walk down the street and people say they watched me play as a kid, or they googled me, too young to know. It’s just amazing that we haven’t been forgotten after all these years.”