I read about Gino Odjick last week and his health problems, doctors say he has months to live, but that there is hope. I don’t know what Gino is going through today, I imagine he is wanting to reflect on a life lived many cannot comprehend. The stories I read were about his dealings with racism as an Indian kid growing up in a place where being Indian was frowned upon. Hockey was an outlet, an escape of some kind and I thought of this as I looked at the poster that has hung on my wall for 20 years, a poster of him in his Canucks gear, which was signed, “To Derek, All the Best, Gino”.
If I could talk to Gino I would say that you were and still are my hero because when you were playing in the world’s best hockey league I didn’t see an enforcer, I saw an Indian with the same brown skin as me, a modern day warrior who used more than his fists to get where he had to, a warrior who fought with all it took within his body, soul and spirit to get there, the fists were a small part of something much bigger.
I would tell you that hockey was also an outlet for me, an outlet from a haunting past I couldn’t and didn’t want to understand at the time, a past non-existent once I stepped on that ice. There was something about gliding through the cold winter air as if I had wings that freed me, wings on my feet with blades and I knew it then, that they were going to get me to where I wanted to go. Like you Gino, those wings got me far, they really did.
I understand now that hockey was not a game, it was so much more, an outlet yes, but also a passion that provided love to a kid who needed it and the rink was a place that I could feel safe and let my imagination run free. I don’t think you would have saw a bigger smile on an Indian boy, when I was winning the Stanley Cup with Wayne Gretzky every night.
As you might imagine, the hardest part was leaving the rink to a place just a bit darker than I liked, life, where everything I couldn’t leave behind was there again, when I had to take off my wings and deal with reality, however, I didn’t have to reach for the stars when the rink was a short walk from my house, my dreams were just up the road and I lived them everyday.
I don’t know if you have months to live, I sure hope you don’t. I just want you to know that hockey saved my life, as it did for you and I hope that one more time, hockey can save your life and I would say Miigwetch, for being an inspiration to myself and many others, but that I would like to thank hockey also, which in a way connected us, I think you might have been skating with me on those cold winter nights, I figure that love had to come from somewhere….