If you ask the family, friends and many fans of former Vancouver Canucks forward Gino Odjick, there is still one name missing from the rafters at Rogers Arena.
The beloved bruiser died Sunday at the age of 52, and calls to induct him into the Ring of Honour are once again growing after his death.
Former Canuck Cliff Ronning told Global News that while he didn’t always make it onto the scoresheet, Odjick embodied what it meant to be a “true Canuck” who gave as much to the community as he did to his teammates.
“Sometimes I think with the ring of honor, they look at one thing: how many goals, how many points (they scored). I think If you really look at what the Ring of Honour stands for, it’s what you’ve done for your community, what you have done for your fans, ” Ronning said.
“He was a hero to so many Indigenous kids, a true warrior, we’ve lost one of our best.”
Former Canuck Cliff Ronning remembers teammate Gino Odjick
Having grown up on the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation reserve near Maniwaki, Que. Odjick earned the nickname the ‘Algonquin Assassin’ early in his playing career, a nod to his Indigenous background and fighting spirit.
He was drafted fifth overall in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft by the Vancouver Canucks, where he quickly was embraced by the fanbase.
Odjick chose to wear the number 29 on his jersey to honour his father, Joe, who was identified by the same number at the residential school he was forced to attend in Spanish, Ont.
“I think that anyone who goes to the rink, you look up at the names that are there, they are there for a reason. Gino Odjick is one, that if you ask any player, even the ones that are up there now, they would take theirs down and put his up,” Ronning said.
“With everything he stood for, I definitely think it’s a no-brainer that he should be there. I wish that he would have seen it. But spiritually, I know Gino would be very proud to be in it,”
Since his death was announced, hundreds of tributes have flooded in from across the National Hockey League, including from young Indigenous hockey players.
Former Canucks owner Arthur Griffiths remembers Gino Odjick
The Canucks were trailing 2-0 in the middle of a road game against the Carolina Hurricanes when news of Odjick’s death flooded social media.
Just then, defenseman Ethan Bear, who is Cree and from the Ochapowace First Nation near Whitewood, Sask., scored the goal that would begin the 4-3 comeback shootout win.
“I heard I scored right after he passed, so I think that’s pretty powerful, maybe it was meant to be or maybe he was there for me on that shot, ” Bear told reporters after the game.
“He was definitely one of the first Indigenous players to make a trail for the rest of us. Whenever you lose a legend and someone who is honestly a big influence in the Native community it’s tough,” he added.
“It’s always nice to have someone you can look up to, who has been through it as well and to support you. I’m definitely going to miss him.”
BC Sports Hall of Fame curator remembers legacy of Gino Odjick
Another one of Odjick’s friends, Marcia McNaughton, kicked off a campaign to ask Canucks management to put Odjick in the Ring of Honour in 2020 after he revealed he was fighting AL amyloidosis, a rare blood disorder that nearly claimed his life in 2014.
“We got no response, we have zero. Other than fans there was no talk from the Vancouver Canucks. Not a word,” McNaughton told Global News.
“I think he should have been there. I think he should be there. I will be so mad if they do it now, because he couldn’t be here to see it.”
In 2015, Odjick was given the Indspire award, the highest honour the Indigenous community bestows upon its own people, in recognition of his career and years spent giving back to his community.
He was also formally inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in 2022.
Never afraid to drop the gloves, Odjick was a formidable opponent on the ice, holding the Canucks franchise record in penalty minutes at 2,127 during his eight seasons with the team.
He tallied 64 goals and 73 assists in 605 NHL games and was a key member of the 1994 Canucks Stanley Cup finalist team, playing 10 games in the playoffs for the team that lost a physical seven-game series to the New York Rangers.
However, those who knew Odjick point to his kindness, his ferocious heart and his work with Indigenous youth as the reasons why his name should be cemented in franchise history for good.
He worked supporting charities, workshops, classes and events and advocated constantly for Indigenous youth in B.C. and back home on his reserve.
“He had a way with people that made them feel that there was a future,” former Canucks owner Arthur Griffiths said.
“He gave people a potential to believe that they could be better than what other people might say they could be.”
-With files from Global’s Aaron McArthur, Squire Barnes, Ted Field and Jason Gilder.
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