DEBUTED Predators right wing Jordin Tootoo, the first player of
Inuit descent to compete in the NHL. The 5'9", 190-pound Tootoo,
who hails from Canada's sparsely populated Nunavut territory,
about 200 miles below the Arctic Circle (SI, Aug. 18), stepped
onto the ice 59 seconds into the Predators' home opener,
accompanied by wild cheering from about 40 friends and family
members (as well as Nunavut premier Paul Okalik), who had
traveled more than 2,000 miles to see him. "I just didn't want to
trip over the boards coming out," said Tootoo. He played
13:34--someone ran through the stands waving the Nunavut flag
during each of his 21 shifts--and drew a late penalty that helped
Nashville seal a 3-1 win over the Mighty Ducks. "I held him back
a little," said Predators coach Barry Trotz, "but he's going to
get more ice time. He's an energetic, catalyst-type player."
Tootoo, 20, spent his youth harpooning seals and whales for food
and is known for his scrappiness. In Nashville's second game,
against the Stars, he jumped into a scrum at the final buzzer and
threw a punch at Dallas defenseman Richard Matvichuk, who is 6'2"
and 215 pounds. "Jordin doesn't fear challenges," says Trotz,
"and he doesn't fear opponents."
Canadian media trailed Tootoo through much of the
preseason--quizzing him about such things as how sushi at
Nashville restaurants compares with the raw Arctic char he eats
at home. When he secured a roster spot on Oct. 6, it made
national news. "We were doing an autograph session, and people
and reporters were swarming him," says Predators forward Jim
McKenzie. "He looked at me and shrugged and said, 'I'm just
another guy trying to make it to the NHL.' It was almost like he
didn't know what the fuss was. I told him, 'Jordin, we all come
from somewhere, but we don't all come from where you're from.'"