Welcome Matt: Legendary Canucks tough guy Gino Odjick lived an extraordinary life

Jan 17 2023, 3:57 am

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Perhaps the final gift that Gino Odjick gave the Vancouver Canucks and their fans is a reminder that no matter how bad things are on the ice and in the boardrooms, some things are just more important.

The Canucks legend passed away yesterday, aged just 52. When the news broke mid-game with the Canucks facing the Carolina Hurricanes, I don’t know about you but my thoughts turned away from the scoreboard to sober reflections on an extraordinary life lived.

From a First Nations reserve outside Maniwaki, Quebec to the NHL and riding shotgun with the likes of Pavel Bure and hereditary chiefs, Gino packed so much into a half century and shared his journey with his adoring public.

From shirtless scraps to challenging the entirety of the other team, Odjick was a loud player and personality on the ice, a softer, gentler character off the ice.

There are so many memorable moments in his career, so many stories about Gino away from the rink, we could sit here all day listening to them. We’ve turned our listener segment (To The People We Go) over to Gino stories today, and I’m sure we’ll hear more as the days and weeks roll on.

I’ll remember Odjick for a number of things, in no particular order:

The scenes.

Whether it was his first game taking on tough customers in Chicago, wanting to fight the entirety of the St. Louis Blues, or shirts-off bouts that went on and on, Odjick created some of the most arresting, wide-eyed moments in Canucks history.

You weren’t changing the station. Part of you couldn’t believe what you were seeing. Nobody did ‘all eyes on me’ better than Gino.

The nicknames.

He harkens back to an era where player nicknames were a thing, especially for the tough customers. He was tabbed the Maniwaki Mauler and the Algonquin Assassin, but fewer would know that “Gino” itself was a nickname. His given name was “Wayne” but they started calling him “Gino” because there was another Wayne on the reserve. It not only stuck, but any British Columbia hockey fan can close their eyes and hear the “Gino, Gino, Gino” chant echoing through the Pacific Coliseum or Rogers Arena.

We will hear it again Wednesday when the team pays tribute to Odjick at its next home game.

Not sure “Wayne, Wayne, Wayne” would have resonated as much. Besides, there was already a one-name hockey Wayne.

The people.

Odjick had a tremendous gift with people. All people, but especially his people.

When I recall Carey Price bringing hundreds of First Nations youth to Rogers Arena for a Canadiens practice, I’m reminded that Odjick was doing outreach work with indigenous peoples decades ago. Never forgot where he came from, nor the struggles that he overcame and claimed too many of his peers.

But his way with people extended off reserves as well. He was accessible and comfortable in public circles that so many athletes have walled off, happy to meet fans of course everybody recognized him so there were always fans around.

No better tribute than in June 2014 when hundreds of Canucks fans held vigil outside of VGH when Gino’s health took a turn for the worse.

He could also walk with the powerful, whether it was sporting superstars like his good friend Pavel; franchise owners like Francesco Aquilini; even religious leaders.

I can remember being in the Globe and Mail Vancouver bureau one day when I heard colleague Gary Mason roaring with laughter and gobsmacked at what he was hearing on the other end. He gets off the phone and says: “That was Gino Odjick, he’s just returned from Rome with a bunch of First Nations leaders. He met the Pope!”

Needless to say, Gino was carrying on about a guy like him meeting the Pope and had Gary, and in turn, me, in stitches.

Like I said, we could go and on and on with Gino stories and many of you will. Let’s end it there and ask that Gino rest easy.

Forever a Canuck.

Matthew SekeresMatthew Sekeres

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