VANCOUVER - Jordin Tootoo doesn’t take anything for granted anymore.
The Nashville Predators forward is appreciating the opportunity to be in the Stanley Cup playoffs after completing an in-patient care program through the NHL's substance abuse and behavioural health program.
“It’s good to be back with the guys,”Tootoo said prior to Saturday's playoff game against the Vancouver Canucks.“(A chance to win the Stanley Cup) is what I live and die for.
"You hit bumps in the road, you deal with them and here I am today. I feel good. I’m excited to be part of the team and in the running for the Cup.”
Tootoo, 28, who grew up in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, and was the first Inuit to play in the NHL, voluntarily entered the program in late December and was cleared to play again in February. His mother, Rose, has attributed Tootoo's demons to his difficulty dealing with older brother Terence’s suicide in 2002.
But Tootoo has excelled since returning to action. He had a goal and four assists in helping Nashville defeat the favoured Anaheim Ducks in six games and advance past the opening round of the playoffs for the first time ever.
“I think I’m at a level where I knew I could be,”said Tootoo.“I’m just excited to be here.
"There’s tons of other hockey players that wouldn’t want to be in my shoes. I know how it is. I don’t take things for granted and I work hard every day.”
Nashville coach Barry Trotz said Tootoo, whose No. 22, is a play on his surname, has found peace after deciding to deal with his situation.
“He’s had a lot of pressure in his upbringing,”said Trotz.“He’s had some devastating things that happened in his life.
"We all deal with it different internally. With Jordin, that life decision has changed his life and has changed his game.”
Tootoo’s regular season, by comparison, was modest as he had eight goals and 10 assists in 54 games.
But more important to Trotz is Tootoo has put his life in order.
“Your game can’t be in order unless your life’s in order, and he got his life in order,”said Trotz.“Last series, he was tremendous.
"He was tremendous down the stretch, once he sort of got back into the flow. He was a big factor in us winning the series. You see his game is really growing.”
Defenceman Ryan Suter said he believes Tootoo is taking hockey much more seriously now than he did before entering rehab.
“He’s a different person just in practice and in the room,”said Suter.“The way that he was acting before, it wasn’t as important to him as it is now.
"I think he’s excited to be here now. I’m not saying he wasn’t excited. But it really shows, the way he carries himself and walks around the room.”
Tootoo agreed and had nothing but praise for all associated with the Predators for giving him“tremendous support.”The five-foot-nine, 198-pound forward, who is known for his physical play despite his limited size, said he has also become more mature on the ice.
Tootoo, Nashville's all-time penalty-minutes leader and most penalized player in the post-season, said he has to choose the right time to lay on the hits.
Trotz told his club Saturday to show more discipline in this series after running into penalty trouble in the opening game. But Tootoo said he is not making a conscious effort to stay out of the box.
“If you’re worried about it, it’s going to happen–it’s going to backfire,”he said.“I’m just going to go out there and play the game the way it’s meant to be played, and good things will happen.”
NOTES—Trotz said he'd go with the same lineup he used in Nashville's 1-0 opening-game loss. Canucks coach Alain Vigneault also planned to go with the same roster with defenceman Andrew Alberts and winger Jeff Tambellini remaining healthy scratches.…Vancouver defenceman Sami Salo, out since early in the sixth game of the opening-round series against Chicago, skated on his own Saturday.“He’s day-to-day,”said Vigneault.