His brother’s suicide note said only this: “Jor, go all the way. Take care of the family. You’re the man. Terence.” For Jordin Tootoo, it was the crossroads of his career. He'd either quit hockey right then and there, or heed his brother’s last words to him and continue on to become the first Inuk to play in the NHL. This is what frames
All the Way: My Life on Ice, which was released today. It’s the mid-career memoir of Tootoo, a tough-as-nails, built-like-a-brick fighter who, against all odds, reached hockey’s highest summit from the small village of Rankin Inlet in Nunavut. The book’s bountiful f-bombs, derivatives and an assortment other colorful metaphors give it the raw, bare bones feel of being in a bar listening to Tootoo tell his story. Except he’s not drinking. Nearly four years removed from a mid-season stint in rehab, Tootoo is still sober, following more than a decade heavy drinking and all the debauchery and demons that ensued.
Tootoo bares it all in his book – sometimes with braggadocio, often with humility, occasionally with sheepishness. It’d all be off-putting if it weren’t for Stephen Brunt, one of Canada’s premier sportswriters, whose measured voice frames the story every step of the way. So, for every time Tootoo talks of “booze” and “broads,” Brunt writes about “alcohol” and “women.” And there are a lot of both, especially in Nashville when Tootoo hit the big time and became a fan favorite. All-night drinking binges and one-night stands were the norm for Tootoo until Predators GM David Poile gave him an ultimatum: go into rehab or get cut from the team. The book begins and ends in Rankin Inlet, where Tootoo had to escape the community’s black hole of booze, abuse and suicide. Yet, although it’s the origin of all of Tootoo's problems, home is also his source of strength, a conclusion he eventually comes to after a painful route takes him to this proud realization. What’s so refreshing about
All the Way that distinguishes it from other hockey books is the honesty and sincerity that’s so lacking from players, particularly one in the middle of his career. Nearly every player who writes an autobiography does so only after he’s retired from the game, because to do so any earlier is to willfully write his own name on the blacklist of the old boys’ club that is the NHL. Tootoo praises many of his GMs, coaches, teammates and opponents, while calling out others for blame. He also singles out some for shame, including three pro players he charges with hurling racial slurs at him on the ice. Tootoo's book is a confession, consequences be damned. And it’s motivated by the same middle-finger-to-the-world attitude that got him from Rankin Inlet all the way to the NHL.