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THE MOJ: ‘Legend’ not too strong a word for Gino, an all-time Canuck

Odjick earned every inch of the love Vancouver fans gave to him
Violet Boehm, left, kisses former Vancouver Canucks’ enforcer Gino Odjick as he’s wheeled back into Vancouver General Hospital after coming out to greet hundreds of fans that gathered to support him in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday June 29, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Nov. 21, 1990.

It’s the date a legend was born.

It’s the date that Gino Odjick made his Vancouver Canucks debut in Wednesday night game versus the Chicago Blackhawks at the Pacific Coliseum.

Not much was known about the 21-year-old callup from the team’s American Hockey League farm club in Milwaukee. There was no internet to watch game footage or look up a scouting report. The Canuck wearing jersey #66 was basically a no-name.

That was about to change in a hurry.

Odjick first fought Dave Manson of the Hawks at the 3:25 of the third period, then for good measure, went at it with Stu Grimson at 15:31.

The bouts against two of the tougher customers in the league served notice that things would be different moving forward in Vancouver.

The impact that it had on those at the game was immediate but what made it even more impactful with the fan base was that it was — at the time — one of those rare Canuck games that was televised.

Odjick quickly endeared himself to the Canucks faithful as that enforcer that they never had. He took on all comers in that role but there was more to it than that.

He was a character armed with intelligence and wit as evidenced by his debut.

After getting tossed for his fight with Grimson, Odjick turned to Canucks head coach Bob McCammon and stated “Don’t $^@! this thing up without me” as he made his way down the tunnel to the dressing room.

The Canucks were leading the Blackhawks 4-0 with 4:31 left to go in the third period.

He also had that smile that would make anyone approaching him feel welcome, yet at the same time it had the capacity to kind of scare you deep down inside.

He developed a friendship with the team’s new superstar in Pavel Bure which generated interest with the fans and the media. For some, it was hockey’s version of the Odd Couple yet upon closer scrutiny it made sense.

They were two young, single men living out their dreams of playing in the NHL. They also came from worlds that were vastly different than their teammates. Moscow and Maniwaki, Quebec weren’t Kelowna, Medicine Hat or Edmonton for that matter. The two ‘outsiders’ quickly bonded.

Gino also loved life.

There was many a night spent at the iconic Roxy Nightclub in Vancouver with Gino, but sometimes he loved life a little too much.

During the summer of 1995, I was driving up the Coquihalla Highway to Kelowna when, much to my surprise, I saw Gino along the side of the road with a support team in tow.

He was in the midst of his “Journey of Healing” which would see him visit youth on First Nations Reserves in British Columbia and Alberta in an effort to raise awareness about the perils of alcohol and drug abuse.

Gino had recognized that he had issues with alcohol.

He also recognized how much Indigenous youth idolized him and how he needed to deal with this issue to be a better role model. Youngsters were looking up to him as he had looked up to Boston’s Stan Jonathan in the 70’s.

The “Journey for Healing” would be the start of a commitment to helping Indigenous youth that would last until the end of his life.

Gino cared about his friends and he was loyal to them.

His time as a Canuck ended during the Mark Messier/Mike Keenan era when he was dealt to the Islanders in March of 1998 because of friction between himself and Keenan. This was due to Odjick standing up for his former captain in Trevor Linden and his former head coach in Pat Quinn.

In typical Gino fashion, he fought Jason Strudwick of the Canucks in his first game back in Vancouver on March 24, 1998. Strudwick, by the way, was the player he was traded for.

After his career ended, Odjick returned to Vancouver where he would show some shrewd business acumen by buying and revitalizing The Musqueam Golf Course as well taking part in Canuck Alumni events.

If you needed Gino, he’d be there as I found out first hand with him participating in the first few years of The Moj Shootout until his bout with Amyloidosis in June of 2014 ended his golfing days.

I remember visiting him in Vancouver General Hospital at that time and seeing the water retention in his arms and lower legs. I got emotional as it reminded me of my mom’s last days due to cardiac issues, and sure enough, Gino was told to get his affairs in order as he wouldn’t have much time left.

But this was Gino Odjick.

He lived for another eight years.

During that time, he was recognized by the Canucks on several occasions as well as the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame. These accolades allowed a younger generation of Canuck fans to learn about Gino Odjick.

That meant a lot to him as he told me in a ‘BIO Series” interview we did with him last spring that can be found here.

We use the term ‘legend’ rather loosely these days when describing people.

Gino Odjick lived up to that title.

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media. And check out his weekly podcast every Monday at Today in B.C. or your local Black Press Media website.

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