I don’t listen to audiobooks, and I don’t believe there is one of Jordin Tootoo’s hockey memoir, but this is the book I’d start with if I were ever going down that path because the book is written as though you’re sitting next to this guy, and it’s getting later and later at night, and he’s telling you more and more stuff you didn’t think you’d ever know and it’s all coming in this really thick Rankin Inlet drawl that’s the Canadian equivalent of the Texas one.
The evening starts with a mix of humbleness and braggadocio. “Needless to say, I made the team,” Tootoo writes of his teenage entry into Alberta hockey. “Lit it up.”
But it quickly becomes confessional. “So by then we were a few cases deep and three sheets to the wind and the next thing we knew it was one o’clock in the morning.”
Gradually, the confessions are mixed with regret. “The whole town would be fucking hammered thanks to us. The word would get out that Jordin and Terence were home and partying somewhere, so have at ‘er.”
This book is co-authored by sports writer Stephen Brunt, who contributes italicized waypoints at the start of every chapter and probably had a hand in organizing things, but the whole thing is unmistakably Tootoo’s voice and that’s what makes this book so great.
We get the full hockey story. “What? Really? I made it? I’m in the NHL? Holy fuck,” Tootoo writes. “The next thing you know, I was a household name in Nashville.”
We also learn all about Tootoo’s childhood, the terrible death by suicide of his older brother Terence, his time in celebrity rehab, what it’s like being a fighter in the NHL, and what it’s like getting sidelined when the sheen wears off, all in Tootoo’s tell-it-like-it-is voice.
“Well, why don’t we wind ‘er up and grab another case?” he writes. I mean, there really should be more sentences like this in Canadian literature.
Tootoo is similarly direct when he writes about his regret at his youthful partying, which he manages to leave behind: “What the fuck was I doing? Being selfish, and doing it for all the wrong reasons.”
I like how Tootoo describes the North as a place “where people are real, loyal, humble and true to themselves.” He’s humble both about his fame there and, to his giant southern audience, the fact that he comes from an exotic, almost mythical place. “There aren’t many people up there, but for those people I’m like a massive sports figure in America or maybe the president of the United States.”
I also like how he describes certain white people (in this case, his mother) who go North and find themselves at home.
“I come from a mixed race family, but there’s not a lot of talk about that in Rankin Inlet,” he says. “A lot of white people come up here for jobs. It’s the same in a lot of remote communities. Race is less and less an issue because there are white people who have lived here for generations. Here, you are really defined more by your surroundings. A lot of white people move up north, people who have grown up in well-off families and had everything given to them. They come here and it kind of brings them back to earth.”
Tootoo’s story is a difficult one. Here’s how he describes an early opportunity to leave Rankin to go play a tournament in Fort Providence: “What a great opportunity it was to get out of my house and the fucking mess that it was behind closed doors.”
A lot of his story is like this. It’s no coincidence that he made his name in hockey as a fighter, someone unafraid to take on just about anyone. But this book will give you a nice glimpse of the reasoned, considered guy who’s come out the other side of this wild, crazy career.
Best of all is his deep appreciation for where he’s come from, and even his parents, whose dangerous partying is part of the “fucking mess” Tootoo’s unafraid to describe. And that makes this a generous, affecting and moving book, and a great read.