Jordin Tootoo: Nashville-bound

It’s a long way from Nunavut to Tennessee. I don’t anticipate too many folks from Nashville making the journey north, but there is at least one resident of Rankin Inlet who will be making the trip south to the land of the Grand Ole Opry. The Nashville Predators chose 18 year-old Jordin Tootoo in the fourth round of the 2001 NHL entry draft, making him the first ever player from the territory of Nunavut to be selected in the draft. Tootoo, at 5-foot-9, is small by current NHL standards but comes with a reputation for playing well above his size. His rise to being selected by an NHL team has been nothing short of meteoric. Having played only four years of organized hockey due to growing up in a town where there weren’t enough young hockey players to organize a league, Tootoo has already amassed a tidy little portfolio of accomplishments. He was captain of the gold medal Canadian under-18 team at the 2000 Four Nations tournament in Slovakia. He played in last year’s Top Prospects Game and won the hardest shot competition (96.1 mph). He’s been named most popular player two years running for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL, where he tallied 20 goals, 48 points, and an enthusiastic 172 penalty minutes.

It is unlikely that Tootoo will play in the NHL next year but, judging by the scouting report on the 98th pick over-all, he has a better than fair chance at a future in the big leagues. The youngster who grew up playing with his older brother Terence and his friends has been described by Central Scouting as “a strong skater with good acceleration, agility and balance.” The report also noted that he handles the puck well, has a good hockey sense, plays well along the boards and in the corners, drives hard to the net, and is “one of the hardest bodycheckers in the league.” What more could you ask of a player other than to strap on the pads and play some back-up goalie for the team? This guy would probably do it.

Waskaganish Teen Drafted Into QMJHL

Joshua Rathbone, of Waskaganish, was the third round pick of the Acadie-Bathhurst Titans of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). The 16 year-old forward was drafted 341th overall at the QMJHL draft held last month in Montreal. The 6’2″, 195 pounder, who played Bantam M last year for the Academy Bandits, was surprised to be drafted as high as the third round, not having expected to go higher than the fifth round. Originally a defenceman, Rathbone moved up to play forward this past season. The youngster has been working out daily in the gym and will be on the ice in Peterborough, Ontario, this month for a two-week conditioning camp at Roger Neilson’s hockey school. Rathbone finished up his second season at the Peak to Excellence Hockey Academy in South Porcupine, where he went through an arduous training program before and after classes at Roland Michener Secondary School. The bandits played over 130 games last season and Joshua was on the ice daily. Drafted as a 16 year-old in the first five rounds, Rathbone is guaranteed a spot with the team in Bathurst, New Brunswick, next season. Waskaganish appears to be making inroads on the junior hockey scene as fellow community member Ryan Wiestche played as a rookie with the Ontario Hockey League’s Soo Greyhounds last season.

A Funny Thing Happened on The way To The Forum

There was a time when the Montreal Forum rang with the shouts of “Bergeron Pourri! Bergeron Pourri!” This was when there was something called a rivalry. This particular rivalry was between the Montreal Canadiens and the Quebec Nordiques. Michel “le Tigre” Bergeron was the infamous coach of the Nordiques. It was war.

Former unknowns like John Kordic were thrust into the spotlight and attained hero-status almost overnight. I can recall the image of the late enforcer taunting the deflated Quebec bench at the Forum after beating the tar out of the latest hired-gun brought up from the minors with the sole purpose of taking down Kordic and pumping up the Nordiques. Kordic would skate the length of the Nordiques bench, shrugging his shoulders at Bergeron and his crew, as if to say, “Who else have you got?” Basil McCrae, Gordie Donnelly, and Richard Zemlak are names that some fans today might not be familiar with, but these were the guys that had to do battle with Kordic, Chris Nilan, Dave Maley, Steve Rooney, and a host of other rugged Habs forwards in one of the fiercest rivalries imaginable.

Times have changed. The marketplace rules. Teams are now franchises. Players who attain free agency go where the money takes them. The cash-strapped teams lag behind as the big spenders open their wallets in a shameless feeding frenzy. Rivalries are a thing of the past. There are too many roster changes nowadays to maintain a lineup, let alone a rivalry. Players move on with no hard feelings all around, because it’s not personal it’s just business. Too bad, it was more interesting when it was personal. Beating the Nordiques was almost as important as winning the Stanley Cup. Every game between these teams was like a playoff game – and they played each other, to the death, eight times a year during the regular season alone. Now the Nordiques are but a memory, having relocated to Colorado, John Kordic has gone to the great sin bin in the sky, the Forum is a movie theater and the once mighty Canadiens have missed the playoffs three years on the trot – and counting.