Thursday

Gino Odjick

Tough guy Gino Odjick, a.k.a. "The Algonquin Assassin," ranks as one of the most popular fan favorites in Vancouver Canucks history. The usually quiet Vancouver faithful loved to boisterously repeat chants of "Gino! Gino! Gino!" whenever Odjick hit the ice, or, more often than not, whenever Odjick hit a member of the other team.

Odjick was far from the best player on the ice. He was perhaps the clumsiest skater I've ever seen, but he had a decent scoring touch. But make no mistake, he was there for two reasons - leadership and toughness.

Odjick was a leader. He was more popular among teammates than with fans. He would go to any length to help out a teammate, on or off the ice. When Mark Messier and Mike Keenan chased popular figures such as Trevor Linden out of town, Odjick was perhaps the only player to stand up against the new regime. Earlier, when Jeff Brown was suddenly dismissed for suspicious reasons of disorderly conduct, Odjick reportedly gave Brown a going away gift - two black eyes.

Though tight with most of the Canucks' brass, Odjick had a special bond with Pavel Bure. Bure, often accused of being aloof and disinterested in the team away from the ice, had a unique and unlikely friendship with Odjick. Bure was the superstar hockey player from Moscow with Hollywood good looks. Odjick, a full blooded Algonquin Indian who grew up in poverty on the Maniwaki reserve in Quebec, shouldn't have lasted as long as he did in the NHL. But the two were inseparable, and Odjick acted as the link between the team and its distant superstar.

"He came over from Russia, and was a Red Russian, very proud of his heritage, and when he came I knew the feeling he had. We were two people who came from completely different cultures than what we were put into," Odjick explained.

Odjick often played on a line with Bure, which came as little surprise. Odjick's only job on the ice was to protect Vancouver's star players, particularly the Russian Rocket.

Odjick did just that. He was never considered to be the NHL's heavyweight champion, but he was well respected in that circle, and always showed up. Too often he would jump into a fracas from behind, and occasionally he went berserk and crossed some lines. Check out the YouTube video below to see some classic Gino....

That's what Odjick did best. In his very first game, he took on Chicago heavyweights Dave Manson and Stu Grimson. The chants of Gino started immediately. The only other time I remember Vancouver fans to be as excited about a NHL debut was when Bure played his first game. A cult hero was born.

Soon Odjick had established himself as a heavyweight contender, especially after divisional showdowns with the likes of Marty McSorley and Dave Brown.

And the rest of the Canucks truly benefited from Odjick's presence. Just ask Cliff Ronning.

"Having a guy like Gino around really makes all of us play bigger and tougher. We aren't afraid of initiating battles, because we known Gino is with us. There is a noticeable difference in team mentality since Gino's arrival," Ronning told the Vancouver Province.

Life in the NHL was a definite adjustment for Odjick, but more off the ice than on it. Growing up on the tiny, close-knit reserve did not prepare Odjick for life in the big city. He was constantly getting lost among the skyscrapers of downtown Vancouver, and was ill prepared for life as an NHLer. For example, suits and ties are the NHL norm, Odjick only had a sweater until Stan Smyl took him shopping. The reserve life left Odjick very sheltered. In a classic example, Odjick never had cable television on the reserve. Once in Vancouver, one fan held up a sign proclaiming "Gino is tougher than Saddam," of course referring to Saddam Hussein during the original Gulf War. The under-educated Odjick spent much of the night scanning the ice and asking teammates, trying to find this Saddam character in order to fight him.

By his second season, Odjick had fully adjusted to life in Vancouver. And he proved to be more than just a tough guy. He scored 29 points, including 16 goals, 5 of which were game winners. In fact, in total he played in 605 NHL games, including stops in Long Island, Montreal and Philadelphia. He scored a respectable 64 goals and 73 assists in that time, not to forget his walloping 2567 career penalty minutes.

Odjick had proven the Canucks right. His biggest supporters were Pat Quinn, Brian Burke and in particular Ron Delorme, a full blooded native scout in the organization. They all believe he could play, not just fight, in the NHL.

Odjick, who grew up idolizing native warrior Stan Jonathon of the Boston Bruins, had the same aspirations.

"That was the goal. I never wanted to fight just to see if I was tougher than one guy. I never wanted to be known as the toughest guy in the NH. I just wanted to known as a guy that took care of his teammates."

Like so many Canucks of the 1990s, Odjick was victim to the Keenan-Messier regime that tore apart the team. With Quinn and Burke gone, Odjick knew it was just a matter of time before many of the players, including himself and Bure, were moved too. Odjick's dismissal came in March 1998, soon after he publicly stood up for long time captain Trevor Linden.

Odjick was sent to the New York Islanders, who ironically were in Vancouver that week for a game. In that game, Odjick dropped the gloves against and easily defeated Jason Strudwick, the man he was traded for. Even though Odjick was now in an opposing uniform, the Vancouver fans gave one last rousing Gino chant, and said good bye to one of the most popular players in Canucks history.



2 comments:

C-fanSince88 12:29 PM  

Loved Gino - absolutely loved him. The guy was amazing, the perfect compliment to guys like Bure and Linden, and was a legit heavyweight. Every team needs guys like Gino to protect their starts, even in todays NHL.

I remember Odjick scoring on a penalty shot against Mike Vernon of the Flames in 1992. When he scored, I thought the roof was going to blow off the Pacific Coliseum, and I remember dancing in my living room and celebrating the exact same way Gino did - what a moment for him and Canuck fans everywhere! His 16 goal season for the Canucks in '94, while riding shotgun on Bure's line, was one for the ages - what the odd couple they made!

He had that 'crazy factor' in him too. The guy had a temper and constantly toed the line - his flips outs against the Kings, then the Blues in the '95 playoffs, were unforgettable. His suckerpunch on Todd Harvey, however, was brutal. But thats the way Gino played - on a fine line, and occasionallly he crossed it - but being so unpredicatble was one of the many reasons fans loved him so much. That, and he was real good at beating people up!

It was a sad day when Gino was traded, soon after Linden - but I cheered for him nonetheless when he fought the very guy he was traded for in Strudwick. Odjick was as skilled a goon as there ever was.

JKidd 9:06 AM  

A true goons' goon. A guy that would be out there every night, no matter the pain or opponent - to defend his mates. Most notably, Pavel. A truly crazy man on the ice too. He had no issues with delivering elbows, two handers and especially, getting in your face and forcing you to defend yourself, or risk getting your eyes punched through the back of your skull. Still to this day, one of my favorite NHL enforcers to watch tape on. You just never knew what Gino would do, and that, in itself, is what made him a special player, but makes the enforcer role what it should be.

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