But Rankin Inlet is different in other ways. Upon entering someone else's home, "no one knocks," Barney says. "Only the RCMP [ Royal Canadian Mounted Police] knocks." Everyone from 10-year-old kids to 80-year-old grannies gets around on all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). And in the summer, when there's sunlight for as many as 22 hours a day, time is suspended. It is nothing to see 10-or 11-year-old children riding bikes through the streets or bouncing on trampolines at 2 a.m. "What I love most about Rankin is there's no schedule to follow," Tootoo says. "You just go with the flow. Everyone knows you, and you know everyone. Being around simple, straightforward Inuks."
In the winter snowmobiles take over the streets from the ATVs, and the windchill can drop to-60�. The sun rises at 10 a.m. and sets five hours later. Since the mid-1980s Rankin Inlet has had a covered outdoor hockey arena that seats 1,500, but mere is no refrigeration system to keep the ice frozen. The surface usually doesn't freeze until mid-November, and by April it's melted.
Still, Rankin usually puts together some loosely organized hockey teams. Barney Tootoo managed the rink and was a coach when Jordin and his older brother, Terence, were growing up. (There is also an older sister, Co-rinne Pilakapsi, 27, who has two children.) It was too expensive to fly the teams to other communities for games, so the Rankin Inlet kids skated in a house league three times a week, scrimmaging mostly, and when weather permitted, they had pickup games on Williamson Lake. "We only had one team per age group [in the town], and we just played each other," Jordin recalls. "It was shinny, and we made the rules as we went along."
Barney had learned the game in Churchill, 300 miles south, where he was raised. A right wing, he played semipro hockey for the Thompson Hawks of the now defunct Canadian Central League, but he made his living as a miner and, later, as a plumber. Barney liked the game to be played rough. He taught his team to bodycheck. Terence, three years older than Jordin, was the fiercest hitter in Rankin. "My brother and his friends were always hard on me," Jordin says. "That's where I got my toughness. They'd tell me to bodycheck the boards at full speed, and I'd do it. They just wanted to laugh at me, but when you're nine and they're 12, it's intimidating. My dad always told me, 'If you want to play with the older kids, you'll have to stick up for yourself.' He'd just laugh when I got beat up by my brother and his friends."
If Terence and Jordin were going to go anywhere in hockey, as those who watched them at summer hockey camps in Winnipeg believed they could, Barney knew they'd have to leave home and play better competition. So in 1997, when Terence was 17 and Jordin was 14, the boys moved on. Terence played Junior A for the Opaskwayak Cree Nation (OCN) Blizzard in The Pas, Manitoba, a team he helped lead to three championships, and captained twice, over the next three years. Jordin played AAA Bantam in Spruce Grove, Alberta. Everything about playing and living away from home was tough. Stoplights? Jordin had never seen one before. The traffic and speed of the cars? "A lot of times I just stayed inside," he says.
The hardest adjustment was living in a town where people didn't know who you were. "I was the only Inuk in the area, and for the first time I experienced racism, at school," he says. "I was living with a friend, Justin Pesony, who was aboriginal, and gangs of kids would come to the house yelling that we weren't going to take over their school. I had my battles off the ice. Little did they know I'm a crazy Inuk who eats raw meat and could butcher them up, no sweat. Eating that raw meat makes me a little wacko sometimes."
He must have had a big meal before his first home game in Spruce Grove, because Jordin beat up another player so badly that he was suspended for seven games. Says Jordin, "I thought, What's the big deal? I figured you could do anything you wanted on the ice."
It was his first time playing against kids his age on a regular basis, and his coaches kept telling him to back off—he was too rough. The next season he joined Terence in Junior A at OCN, where, at 15, he was the youngest player. At the end of the year he was voted the team's most popular player by the fans. "My brother and I always looked after each other," he says. "If he fought, I fought. We were wild. He was five-foot-eight, but he played like he was six-foot-three."
They looked alike and played alike, small and feisty and fearless. But Jordin's skills were developing faster than his brother's. The next year Jordin went to play for the Brandon ( Manitoba) Wheat Kings in the Western Hockey League, where his style of play made him the team's most popular player in each of the next four years. As a 17-year-old he was voted the best body-checker in the Kings' conference. He captained Canada's gold-medal-winning entry in the 4 Nations tournament in Slovakia for players 18 and under. At the Top Prospects Skills Evaluation in Calgary that winter, he had the hardest shot (96.1 mph) in the competition. He may have started as a roughneck, but Tootoo was showing people he also had skill and leadership. For such a physical player he has soft hands and projects to be a 20-goal player in the NHL. He can score on rebounds in the tough areas around and outside the crease.
"It was his skating ability that caught my eye," says Craig Channell, the Predators' chief amateur scout, "and he's the best hitter I've seen in my life."