Tootoo reflects on last time he saw his brother

New Jersey Devils right wing Jordin Tootoo, right. Julio Cortez/AP

Growing up in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, Jordin Tootoo, the first Inuk to play in the NHL, learned the game from his father, Barney, but principally from his older brother, Terence. The two were close, and frequently leaned on each other during their years playing hockey away from home. In the summer of 2002, Terence came to stay with Tootoo and his billet family in Brandon, Man., where Tootoo was a star forward on Kelly McCrimmon’s Wheat Kings. Terence had just played a successful first season with the Roanoke Express, a second-tier minor league team in Virginia, and was hoping to move on to the Norfolk Admirals, then the AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks. Tootoo had been drafted by the Nashville Predators the year before, and the brothers were looking forward to a bright future in hockey. But then, quite suddenly, Terence lost all hope one night just a few days before he was set to return to the U.S.

In this exclusive excerpt from his new memoir, All the Way: My Life on Ice, co-written with Sportsnet columnist Stephen Brunt, Jordin Tootoo reflects on the last night he saw his older brother.

I need to tell you about my brother, Terence.

Growing up, he was always a caring guy who looked after other people before he looked after himself. I remember that as a kid, as hard as he was on me, he was always there to protect me. In the community, everybody admired him for being the way he was. He carried himself with laughter and he always had a positive vibe wherever he went. He was always so caring, and very charismatic. He wasn’t a guy who said a lot. He wasn’t the life of the party. He sat back quietly. But when he spoke, you listened. He never showed any negativity. Maybe that hurt him, because he couldn’t express those darker feelings. Just because you always seem happy doesn’t mean you’re a happy person.

I was more of a daredevil. I didn’t care about the consequences in the moment. Terence was a guy who thought twice and considered the worst-case scenario. He was the one who friends relied on for the right answers on anything that lay ahead. And he always had those answers. He always came through. He wasn’t the biggest guy, but a lot of friends and family members looked to Terence when they had to get things done. Even if it was a two-man job, a three-man job, Terence found a way to do it by himself.

When people were around him, they would watch what he did. They followed his lead. He carried himself with a lot of confidence. Growing up, his buddies looked up to him. He was kind of the leader of the pack. He was always willing to try something new to test it out before anyone else did, just to make sure it was OK.

He was quiet, except in the dressing room. It was like he turned into a different man when he put on his hockey equipment. Growing up, he wasn’t much of a talker in public, but in the dressing room he was a very vocal guy. He wasn’t afraid to make speeches there, because he was in his comfort zone.

On the ice, he had the same style as I do. He was a great skater. He played hard. He wasn’t afraid to drop his gloves. He caught a lot of players off guard, because he was a southpaw who shot the puck right-handed but punched left-handed.

Terence was really close to my dad—a lot closer than I was. He was his right-hand man, because he was older. He was always by Dad’s side, looking after him—really, sometimes babysitting him. Out on the land, Terence was Dad’s guy. He was always around to do whatever he was told to do. When my dad needed help, Terence was there. As much as he loved to stay in town on weekends, Terence sacrificed that to go out on the land with my dad. And when Dad went on a bender in town, it was Terence who went to find him.

My mother and Terence had a great relationship, too. I think my mom thought of him as her saviour. When times were tough, she leaned on his shoulders. If it wasn’t for Terence, I don’t think our family would be together today. When things got rough between my parents, he was the mediator. That was a lot to put on a kid. The solution was always: “Call Terence. Terence will calm things down.” That’s the way it was.

When Terence moved down south to play hockey, that’s when things started to get really tough at home. And then when he left us, that’s when all hell broke loose.

The last time I saw Terence was that night out in Brandon. In a couple of days, he was going to be heading to Norfolk, Virginia, for his tryout with the Admirals, and so we were partying hard because I wasn’t going to see him until the next summer. At the end of the night we all jumped in his vehicle, all pissed up with not a worry in the world. We’d done it a hundred times. No big deal.

We lived out in the country, fifteen minutes outside of Brandon, with our billets, Neil and Jeanine. But my girlfriend, Meghan, lived five blocks from the bar where we were. I said, “Let’s just stay at Meghan’s house—spend the night here and go train in the morning.”

Terence said, “No, I’m going to go home.”

Being the younger brother, I wasn’t going to force Terence to do anything he didn’t want to do. He was always set in his ways. If he had something in mind, he was going to f—— do it. That’s just the way he was. So, the plan was to meet the next morning at the Keystone Centre, the Wheat Kings’ rink, to work out.

I said, “Are you sure you want to drive home? Just f—— stay here.” But he left. And I guess as soon as he pulled onto the main drag, the police lights went on. I didn’t see that. He had no cellphone, nothing. He got pulled over and the cops recognized who he was, because we’re both well-known in Brandon. They tested him and he was over the limit. They told him, “We’re going to drive you home to where you’re staying and we’ll just leave it at that, but we’re going to impound your car.” Instead of taking him down to the station, they dropped him off at my billets’ place at three o’clock in the morning. Neil and Jeanine were light sleepers. They always seemed to know when I came home. But I guess they didn’t wake up.

The protocol is that when you drop off someone who is intoxicated, someone sober has to be there to take responsibility for the person. But it was all hush-hush that night. Because Terence was one of the Tootoos and that was a pretty recognizable name in Brandon, the cops decided to keep it quiet. Because of my popularity in Brandon and Terence’s in northern Manitoba, the police tried to keep everything on the down low. All of the cops knew who we were. Heck, I was dating the police chief’s daughter. They knew where I lived and decided to bring Terence to my billets’ house and keep everything under wraps.

They just said, “OK, here’s your place, go ahead and we won’t say anything.” He went into the house and things must have been going a million miles an hour in his head. I’ve wondered about how I would have been thinking if I’d been pulled over—Holy f—, I’m supposed to go to the States in a couple of days and now I’ve got a DUI. They might not let me back across the border. What if I can’t play hockey anymore?

My brother must have thought his life was over. He must have been thinking, So, f—, this is it. All the work I’ve done has just gone down the drain. And everyone would know. It would be humiliating. I think he just couldn’t deal with that being in the public eye. Everyone thought that Terence was this great guy, and that’s how he wanted to be perceived. Everyone makes mistakes, but for him, with all that pressure coming at him from different angles, I just don’t think he had the will inside him to fight it anymore. Instead, it was like, F—, this is it. I’m done. I don’t want to deal with all of these people thinking I’m not this perfect, perfect guy.

The place we stayed at out in the country had a gun in the garage, a 12-gauge shotgun, because we’d go out hunting in the fields behind the house all the time. As best we know, Terence went downstairs to the basement where our room was and took off all of his clothes except his underwear. He set his clothes by the bed and then wrote me a note: Jor, go all the way. Take care of the family. You are the man. Terence. He set the note beside the bed and walked out.

I have analyzed that letter over and over ever since. He knew I had the skill to go all the way and take care of the family. And in Brandon, any time we were out in public, everyone was all over me—so his last line was “You are the man.” I felt bad, but I didn’t mean to be the man—it just kind of happened. He had to have been incoherent. Fricking blacked out. He couldn’t have known what the hell was going on. It was kind of chilly that night, but he went out in just his underwear—no shoes or nothing.

He went to the garage and grabbed three shells and the 12-gauge. Then he walked down to where there was a little trail. There was a fence there. He jumped the fence and fired off one shot there, into the air. I don’t know how Neil and Jeanine didn’t wake up. Then he put the second shell in, pulled the trigger, and it only clicked. It misfired. But he was so determined. Then he put the third shell in. That was it.

The next day I woke up at my girlfriend’s place around ten o’clock and called the house. There was no answer. No one was around. Neil and Jeanine had gone to work. I figured that Terence must have fricking passed out because he was so blitzed. I went to the rink at eleven and he wasn’t there. Again, I figured he was pretty tanked the night before, so he was probably still sleeping.

So I went to work out and got home around 12:30. I saw his shoes there. I went downstairs and his clothes were there. And the note was there. I read it real quick and thought, What the hell is this? But I didn’t think anything more of it than that. I crumpled it up and threw it in the garbage. (After all was said and done, the Brandon Police picked up the note. I don’t know what happened to it after that.) The only thing I was thinking was, Where the f— is he? Where’s his truck?

It was mid-afternoon when Neil called me and told me that the Brandon Police had called to tell him that Terence had got a DUI the night before, and that his car had been impounded. What the f—? But there were no text messages from him. No phone calls.

That’s when I began looking for him. I thought that maybe he took off to the States on a bus or something, or just got out of Dodge to get away from everyone. Get across the border before all the shenanigans went down. So I called all of the bus stations, but there was no record of him. By then it was six o’clock at night. I was wondering, Where the f— did he go? He must have bolted town. That’s what I was thinking. Then Neil came to me and said, “I hate to ask, but you know the gun you always use when you go out hunting? Have you seen it?” I checked the garage. No gun. F—. But we used to hunt geese out back all the time, or just go out there to shoot the gun. So he could have been doing that.

By then, it was getting dark out. Neil and I hopped the fence. We walked around calling his name: “Ter, are you here?” Nothing. We did that for at least half an hour. Nothing. That’s when we called the Brandon Police and told them we had a missing person. I told them exactly what I thought: that he was probably out in the bush somewhere. The gun was gone. They said they’d bring the search dogs.

We had been out there just an hour before, so the dogs picked up our scent first and followed it for fifteen or twenty minutes and didn’t find anything. We had a meeting with the cops and they said they’d come back the next day after our scent was gone because Terence was definitely out there somewhere, and he had the gun.

They came back at seven the next morning. They hopped the fence and the dogs started going apes—. It was still kind of dark. I was standing by the garage with Kelly McCrimmon. Neil went over the fence to take a look. Then all I could hear was his screaming. I just fainted into Kelly’s arms.

From: All the Way: My Life on Ice by Jordin Tootoo with Stephen Brunt. Copyright
© Jordin Tootoo, 2014. Reprinted by permission of Penguin Canada Books Inc.

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