Chicago Blackhawks teammates get behind Tootoo

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Blackhawks right wing Jordin Tootoo (22)shoots as Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm (14), of Sweden, tries to block it during the third period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 4, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn.

    Chicago Blackhawks right wing Jordin Tootoo (22)shoots as Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm (14), of Sweden, tries to block it during the third period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 4, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn.

 
 
Updated 3/5/2017 5:56 PM

The reactions said it all.

Seconds after Jordin Tootoo scored his first goal of the season Saturday night in Nashville, Duncan Keith bear-hugged his teammate, every single Chicago Blackhawks player exploded on the bench, and Brent Seabrook tapped his buddy on the helmet three times, offereding a few words of congratulations.

 

This entire team knows it has been more than a trying season for Tootoo -- a healthy scratch in 16 of the past 20 games -- and they all appreciate his never-ending positive attitude.

"He hasn't played a whole lot lately and I know you guys (the media) see him -- he's the first one out there helping the goalies out and works hard and is positive all the time," Brian Campbell told reporters after he scored the game-winner in the 5-3 victory over the Predators. "It's nice that he gets some recognition, and he deserves that. He's such a great teammate for us."

Certainly, it hasn't always been this way.

Tootoo spent much of the early and middle parts of his NHL career sabotaging his abilities by doing what many pro athletes do in their spare time -- drinking.

In December 2010 -- after seeing what alcohol was doing to Tootoo -- Nashville general manager David Poile gave his player an ultimatum: Enter the NHL and NHLPA's substance-abuse program "or we're going to cut you and everyone will know why." That quote comes from Tootoo's book, "ALL THE WAY: My life on the ice."

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After a month in rehab, Tootoo returned to the Predators and helped contribute to a team that fell to Vancouver in the second round of the playoffs.

Six years later, Tootoo is happy to talk about his sobriety but isn't about to push it on teammates.

"I'm not a guy that's going to throw it in your face," Tootoo told two reporters in the Hawks' dressing room in October. "Obviously you lead by example, and that goes a long ways. Earlier in my career it was a lot of talk and no action. When I sobered up, I really took a few steps back to analyze my situation and what I could bring to the table.

"It takes time. It takes time as a person to heal, to figure out what your purpose is. When you find that, you become more comfortable and content in your own skin."

That's certainly been the case this season. Last month, when I did a story about the goose eggs on his stat sheet, I wasn't sure what he'd say when approached by a reporter who didn't know him all that well.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

His responses, though, really surprised me.

"I've learned to just be a good teammate in the dressing room and just prepare yourself to be ready to play when you're called upon," Tootoo said. "For me it's a privilege to be in this league, and there's thousands of guys that want to be in this position. …

"You don't want to carry that negative energy around because guys feel it, and I've witnessed it before. It's not fun to be around."

Tootoo's value to the Hawks may be questioned by some, but his teammates more than appreciate what he brings to the table -- which is the ability to provide a spark by dropping the gloves like he did in the first period Saturday, as well as being a wonderful example for the team's young players.

"There's going to be so many different opportunities," Tootoo said. "At the end of the day it's about being selfish (and) looking out for your best interests. I was in situations where I thought I had friends that were friends because of me but came to find out it was because of who I am and what I do.

"But with that comes experience, and when you fail as a person it really teaches you to learn from your experiences. I've been through hell and back, but I'm grateful for all the experiences that I've had.

"If I can help one guy, it puts a smile on my face."

• Follow John on Twitter @johndietzdh

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