On the ice, Gino Odjick was known as the Algonquin Assassin or the Maniwaki Mauler – and his role as an enforcer in the National Hockey League was legendary.
But friends say off the ice, Odjick, from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg about 135 km north of Ottawa, was a kind and generous person who was very proud of his heritage.
After his death was announced Jan. 15, Chief Dylan Whiteduck released a statement on behalf of his community.
“Mr. Odjick was a proud Algonquin Anishinabe and the community is very proud of his many accomplishments,” the statement said. “Gino was a hero and a community legend. It’s a tremendous loss for the community and the Algonquin Nation.
“In the early days of his career, he visited the youth, he donated hockey equipment, and he helped our youth pursue their dreams. Finally, he provided advice to aspiring hockey players and was a strong advocate for First Nations education.”
On behalf of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Chief and Council, we send our heartfelt condolences to the Odjick family and prepared an open letter for our beloved community member, Gino Odjick. pic.twitter.com/u38q6s5zYA
— Chief Dylan Whiteduck (@DylanWhiteduck) January 16, 2023
Illness identified years ago
In July 2014, Odjick wrote an open letter to friends, teammates and fans that was posted on the Vancouver Canucks website where he most of his hockey career. He said he had AL amyloidosis which causes “abnormal protein to be produced and deposits are being formed on my heart.”
In his open letter, Odjick said he’s grateful his hockey career helped First Nations youth in his community and across the country.
“It also means the world to me that my hockey career gave me a chance to open doors for kids in Aboriginal communities,” wrote Odjick at the time. “I was just a little old Indian boy from the rez. If I could do it, so could they. My hope is that my hockey story helps show kids from home what’s possible. I always tell them education is freedom.”
Odjick wrote that he was now going to focus on spending time with his children and “everyone I love.”
Many who knew him say he was a “gentle giant” who would share a joke, was approachable and always encouraged others to reach for their dreams.
His close friend Peter Leech spent a lot of time with Odjick.
“He displayed a lot of courage, a lot of strength,” he said. “You know it took a lot of courage to go thru what he did with all his medical stuff. That’s what it is to me he’s a true warrior it took courage to fight for what he fought in the last nine years.
“I mean he was supposed to be passed away in 2014 and he lived nine more years so we have to be grateful for that.
Odjick played in the NHL from 1990 to 2002, wearing the Canucks jersey for eight of those years. He also played for Montreal, the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers.
Former teammate Kirk Mcean says Odjick was a force to be reckoned with.
“Something I didn’t know until these recent media interviews, I did not know that number 29 was in honour of his father and the number he was given in the residential school – and that really got me right in the heart,” he said. “That’s Gino. That’s the kind of person he was and just kind of kept that to himself until what a couple months ago when he was inducted into the B.C. sports hall of fame.”
Back in 2003, APTN shot an event in Vancouver honouring Odjick’s teammate Pavel Bure where he addressed the crowd.
“I’m real happy that Pavel made it here,” he told the crowd. I know in 1993-94 when I scored 16 goals, I know there was a lot of Russian in me – but in the playoffs when Pavel knocked out Shane Churla cold there was a lot of Indian in him.
Fast forward to 2015, Bure was asked about Odjick’s announcement regarding his condition.
“He’s one of my best friends and he was just a good person,” Bure said in a 2015 interview on Canucks TV and posted on Youtube. “He loved his family, he loved his fans and he loved hockey. He was always helping other people – for the kids or other fans.”
Odjick was 52.