In North American Indian lore they were known as shamans, wizened sages who counseled the tribes. But by the late 18th century the white man had stolen most of the Algonquians' territories, erased their identities and traditions, extinguished their shamans. So these days the Algonquian children of the Kitigan-Zibi Reservation turn instead to imperfect totems, like the Vancouver Canucks' hardscrabble winger, Gino Odjick.
"Gino is mean on the ice, but off the ice he is a natural inspiration for native kids," says Kitigan-Zibi manager Leonard Odjick, who is also Gino's uncle. "He is idolized like a god on the reservation. When he comes back, there are always 50 kids in Canuck sweaters following him around like the Pied Piper."
Wayne Gino Odjick was raised on the Kitigan-Zibi Reservation, which is somewhere between Ottawa and the North Pole, and grew up tougher than the moose meat on which he dined. He advanced through junior hockey fists-first, once duking it out with an opposing coach. Drafted by the Canucks in 1990 as a bodyguard, the 6'3", 210-pound Odjick proved his mettle in his very first game by decking the Chicago Blackhawks' Stu (the Grim Reaper) Grimson with an overhand right. "It was a rock 'em, sock 'em tilt," Shawn Antoski, his teammate, recalls. "The fans went wild. That night I think Gino could have been elected mayor of Vancouver."
Odjick fought every challenger. During the past two seasons he led the Canucks in penalty minutes, including a team-record 47 he amassed in one period during an ugly dustup in 1992. "I have always treated the fighting like my job," says the soft-spoken Odjick. "But it's like a carpenter who builds cupboards all day. When he comes home, he doesn't want to build cupboards anymore."
During the introspective moments at home Odjick had the good sense to realize that he could be more than a brawler. This year he has scored 13 goals in 38 games, two fewer than his total over the three previous seasons. "Gino is learning that he can use the respect he receives to put the puck in the net," says Canuck coach Pat Quinn.
The 23-year-old Odjick understands that he is also bucking the odds as one of few Native Americans in the NHL. "Whether as a dentist or hockey player, a native kid who leaves the reservation will always feel lonely, like an outsider looking in," he says. "I tell kids to ignore prejudice. If you work hard, you can make it."
On Jan. 5 Vancouver made its only visit of the season to Ottawa, a homecoming of sorts for Odjick. In the second period of a 7-2 Canuck win, Odjick picked up a loose puck in the right circle and slapped it into the net. Amid the din inside the arena, you could almost hear the roar that also went up at Kitigan-Zibi, where dozens of Algonquians were crammed into the five homes that have satellite dishes to watch Canuck games. Odjick—who had never had more than $175 at any one time in his life before joining the NHL—had phoned a credit-card company that morning to raise his limit so he could buy tickets to the game for 200 friends, including one native boy at rinkside who was wearing his Odjick-autographed baseball cap backward. After the goal the boy was asked whether he admired Odjick's scoring or his toughness more. "Neither," said Lyle Odjick. "He's my cousin, my hero. I learn stuff from him." Then the boy pressed his nose to the glass and yelped for Gino Odjick, the closest thing to a shaman he will ever know.