It was announced on Sunday that Vancouver Canucks legend Gino Odjick, at the age of 52, had passed away. He had been battling some serious health issues for the last several years, so you were aware that time might be running out, but the news still hit hard. This was Gino Odjick after all, the guy who fought anyone and everyone for Vancouver.
Time is undefeated, but part of you felt that if anyone could go toe to toe with mortality and win, it would be Gino. You can almost see him throwing his jersey off and motioning to the heavens to go one more round. Knowing Gino, he fought with everything he had, because that’s just who he was. It’s why he will never be forgotten in this city, and why we’re about to sit back and remember one of the most iconic Vancouver Canucks of all time.
Drafted in the fifth round back in 1990, Gino was picked by the Canucks back when enforcers were still a key part of the game. Everyone knows the legend of Marty McSorley riding shotgun with Wayne Gretzky. Gino became that and more for Pavel Bure. You wanted to even look funny at Pavel, Gino would politely pull you aside and have a little word with you. If you wanted to hit Pavel Bure? Well, Gino would throw everything and the kitchen sink at you. Not that he would only defend Pavel Bure, of course. He would throw down and defend any teammate, no questions asked.
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Watching his fights with what we know now about brain injuries, you kind of view older footage with a different lens. You find yourself wincing a bit as his fights would go on for what felt like hours, no quit in Gino, getting back up and continuing to throw punches even when it looked like the brawl was over.
But that was Gino. He took his job seriously and if you told him the best way to help the team was to stand up for his teammates, well then by God he would stand up and fight every single person you put in front of him. He had a strange combination of purity and innocence in his approach to the game, mixed with a high dose of violence and malice. Back when hockey could turn into the Wild Wild West, he was your Doc Holliday.
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And that approach to the game? It resonated with the fans. How could it not? Anytime a player got hit hard, you had someone standing up for it. Someone willing to throw down and fight. Someone who would put themselves in harm’s way to protect the team. It’s hard not to get caught up in the romanticism of that. But that wasn’t all it was.
Gino was about as down-to-earth of an NHL player as you could get. There was no star attitude from him, there was never a person who heard the crowd chanting his name and got carried away with it. No, the Gino you saw on day one in the NHL was the same Gino you saw years after he retired. He was, quite simply, Gino.
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With the news of his passing, stories poured in from fans all over, seemingly everyone having their own small Gino story. Just basic, “I ran into Gino at Safeway!” or “I played poker with him at River Rock!” sort of stories from all over. Because that’s just who Gino was, he was a regular guy who happened to play hockey. Just a kid who got to live out his dream, and it never changed him. He always had time for his fans and of those there were many. Seeing him in town would instantly lead to you shouting “GINO!!” like you had just seen an old friend of yours, running over with a smile on your face so you could tell him your favourite hockey memory involving him.
That was the connection you had with him, he bled for you, he stood up for your team, and he talked to you with all the humbleness in the world. I would bet almost everyone has their own story of running into Gino, grinning like a little kid, excited to talk to the guy who once thrilled and entertained so many. They say don’t meet your heroes, but meeting Gino was always a pleasure. I remember seeing him once shopping at the Canucks team store, and fan after fan lined up to shake his hand or tell him a memory they had of him. He would smile and chat with each and every single one of them, both sides diving headfirst into the trip down memory lane.
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It was that connection that led to him being one of the most unique Canucks of all time. And sure, part of you might be wondering if I am putting it on a little thick in light of his passing. That maybe I am building him up to pay homage to him. But I assure you, I could never do justice to what it was like to watch Gino in his prime. If you never experienced the “Gino, Gino, Gino!” chant in person, then you don’t know the energy that would rocket through the Pacific Coliseum when he would start throwing punches.
It could be the most tedious game you’d ever seen, but then Gino would start tussling, and it felt like the Pacific Coliseum would burst to life, the building literally shaking with Gino chants. Fans would run over from the concourse to watch what was about to go down, hot dog in hand, screaming “Gino” because they knew they had to partake in the chant.
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And it wasn’t even during fights that you’d hear his name being chanted. An opposing player could dish out a borderline hit, and fans would start murmuring Gino’s name. People would turn to each other and go “Gino is going to **** him up!” Those murmurs would begin to swell, and you’d hear a ripple of sound roll across the stadium.
That sound would form the words “GINO” and before you knew it, people were chanting his name during play, just to let the other team know that the hometown fans had just put out a hit on their guy. And Gino would listen! He would hear his name being chanted, and he would go out and take on anyone. It was like he was your own personal teammate, willing to do whatever you needed of him. We’ve heard the “Luuu” chants, but there has never been as intense of a chant as a “Gino” chant during an instance in which on-ice justice was demanded.
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And you know what, it wasn’t just the fists. He had a bit of skill to his game, a skill that wasn’t asked of him often, but when he got a chance? He’d dazzle the crowds:
Listen to the fan reaction to his goal. More importantly, watch the youthful unrestrained excitement on Gino’s face as he scores the goal and practically runs down the ice, twirling and celebrating. People talk about Andrei Kuzmenko being a fan favourite, and a lot of that is because of this same kind of energy. This non-cynical love of hockey being put widely on display, with not a care in the world. It’s hard not to get caught up in watching someone loving what they do so openly. I still have a hard time figuring out who was happier Gino scored, Odjick himself, his teammates, or the fans themselves.
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This is a guy who was traded to the Islanders during the dark Messier years, and in his first game against the Canucks, he took on the guy he was traded for: Jason Strudwick. Guess who the fans cheered for? Gino Odjick.
This was a guy who would defend Vancouver from anyone, to the point that he would have gladly fought Saddam Hussein, so long as you pointed out which jersey number he wore.
Then of course there’s the story about the time Gino Odjick went to Russia and didn’t know how to find Bure, so he just walked up to the KGB and asked them where Pavel was.
Like I said, everyone has an Odjick story. Because that’s who Gino was. He couldn’t help but just be himself at all times. He was just Gino; a trailblazer for Indigenous hockey, an icon for a city, and someone who will never ever be forgotten.
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If you ask me, those are the credentials for being put in the Ring of Honour. Why it hasn’t happened before now will never cease to amaze me.
Lots of players will don the Canucks jerseys, and many more sports heroes will rise up in this city. But I can confidently say that there will never be another Canuck quite like Odjick.
Forever a legend.
Rest in paradise, Gino.