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ON THE Wild Side
E.M. Swift
August 18, 2003
From a tiny Canadian town 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle, Jordin Tootoo hunts seals, whales and caribou for food. The hard-nosed forward will soon be in Nashville, trying to become the first Inuit to play in the NHL
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August 18, 2003

On The Wild Side

From a tiny Canadian town 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle, Jordin Tootoo hunts seals, whales and caribou for food. The hard-nosed forward will soon be in Nashville, trying to become the first Inuit to play in the NHL

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"He's a human bowling ball," says Parry Shockey, a scout for the Los Angeles Kings. "In one game I've seen him throw five strikes, a couple of spares and a gutter ball when he missed a guy. He hurts people."

"He's like Stan Jonathan with wheels," says Detroit Red Wings scout Bruce Haralson, comparing Tootoo to the Boston Bruins fireplug of the late 1970s and early '80s, who at 5'8" was one of the most feared instigators in the league. "He's a little ball of hate. Some people think he'll struggle in the NHL. Nah. I think he'll just keep pissing people off like he did in junior."

It was the dream of Barney to see Terence and Jordin play in the NHL. Terence wasn't drafted, but he played professionally in the East Coast Hockey League for the Roanoke (Va.) Express in 2001-02, scoring 25 points while proving his worth as a fighter. Off the ice everyone loved him—fans, teammates, management. He was always smiling, talking about hockey and Jordin and Rankin Inlet. He and Jordin called each other after every game they played, and each listened to the other's matches on the Internet.

They were Team Tootoo. The brothers had their own website, TeamTootoo.com, which sold caribou jerky and hockey souvenirs such as T-shirts (with inscriptions that read MOVE, AND YOU'RE FAIR GAME) and pucks. Both wore number 22. They were the talk, and the pride, of Rankin Inlet.

Then last August everything changed. Terence was visiting Jordin in Brandon, working out with him to get ready for the hockey season. On Aug. 28 they went out for dinner and drinks, and afterward Jordin stayed with a friend for the night. Driving home alone, Terence was stopped by police and charged with driving while impaired. After impounding his vehicle, two policemen dropped him off at the house where he was staying. When Terence didn't show up for their training session the next morning, Jordin reported him missing. The RCMP went to the house and found Terence's body in the bushes behind the house, a 12-gauge shotgun by his side. He had committed suicide. The only note he left was for his brother: for, Go all the way. Take care of the family. You're the man. Ter.

No one saw it coming. "He was one guy you'd never thought would do something like that," says Ron Roach, the municipality manager of Rankin Inlet and a family friend. "We'll never know what was going on in his head."

If anything, the tragedy made Jordin more determined to succeed, and he buried his grief in hockey. "It's almost like there's two of us playing in one body now," he says. Last season he had a breakout year with Brandon, tying for the team lead in scoring with 32 goals and 39 assists in 64 games while getting his customary 200-plus penalty minutes. He was also a key contributor to Canada's silver-medal-winning performance at the World Junior tournament in Halifax, Nova Scotia, running over guys, drawing penalties and dogging the opponent's top line. He was named Canada's player of the game in its 4-0 win over the Czech Republic.

"When you looked outside during the tournament, the [Rankin Inlet] streets were empty," says the town's mayor, Quasa Kusugak. "Everyone was watching him on TV. That's all anyone talked about. Jordin's impact isn't just on our community, but all Nunavut. His success shows kids of his generation that they can go out and make something of themselves. When he came home after the tournament, 500 to 600 people met him at the airport-more people than went to see the queen a few years ago. And none of it has gone to his head. If anything's gone to his head, it's that he wants to help the kids in this community more."

He already has. Spurred by Tootoo's success, the government has come up with $400,000 to help pay for the installation of a refrigeration system in Rankin Inlet's arena. "Now we'll have ice by mid-September," says Roach. "Enrollment in the program will be up."

Barney, who has a young man's eyes, spots six caribou grazing in the sedge meadow beyond the rocky shore, less than 1,500 yards away. A discussion of freezer space ensues. Two days earlier the Tootoos came upon 20,000 caribou near the Diana River, so many that the trick was not just to shoot one, but to shoot one without the herd stampeding. As a result of their success, the family's caribou larders are full, and these three bulls and three cows are left to graze the tundra in peace.

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