By Sam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com
Gino Odjick never envisioned himself becoming a Hall of Famer.
But that’s what people will soon be calling him.
It was announced on Oct. 7 that Odjick , an Algonquin from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation in Quebec, is one of the five athletes comprising the 2021 induction class for the BC Sports Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony will be staged June 9, 2022.
Odjick played 12 seasons in the National Hockey League from 1990 through 2002, suiting up for four different squads. Best known for his physical play and being an enforcer, he racked up a whopping 2,709 penalty minutes in 649 NHL contests.
He also collected 142 points, including 77 goals, in those appearances.
Odjick was nominated for the British Columbia sporting hall of fame since he played the majority of his pro career—portions of eight seasons—with the Vancouver Canucks.
Odjick’s close friend Peter Leech, who has spent numerous years working with him in various Indigenous communities, had nominated him. Leech thought Odjick was deserving of the accolade.
“It means a lot,” said Odjick, who is 51 and now lives in Vancouver. “I was surprised when Peter told me he had nominated me. What an honour for me and my family. Being in the hall of fame is a forever thing.”
Statistically, Odjick’s best NHL season was with the Canucks during the 1993-94 campaign. He scored a career-high 16 goals and added 13 assists for 29 points. That’s despite racking up 271 penalty minutes that season.
Though he last played for the Canucks in 1998, chants of `Gino, Gino’ still reverberate throughout Vancouver’s arena whenever he is introduced at home games.
Leech said Odjick is very deserving of his hall of fame selection, adding the former pro is one of the most loved Canucks ever, who is still warmly received whenever he ventures out into public in Vancouver.
“He deserves it a lot,” Leech said of Odjick’s hall of fame recognition. “And he’s done a lot.”
After retiring from the NHL, Odjick focused on being an Indigenous role model. He delivered numerous workshops through British Columbia on issues, including bullying, goal setting, relationship building and communication skills.
The fact Odjick is still alive today is surprising to many, including Odjick himself. Back in the summer of 2014 he had revealed he had a rare blood disorder and that it was terminal.
It was believed that Odjick only had a few months left to live following his announcement. But an experimental new treatment has given him new life.
“Everything is in remission now,” said Odjick, who also had NHL stints with the New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens.
But he will have to continue taking medication for the rest of his life.
Odjick’s condition prevents him from skating but he remains involved as the coach of the Canucks’ alumni squad, which typically plays a couple of games per month throughout British Columbia, raising funds for various charities and organizations.
In part because of the work he has done with Indigenous youth, Leech believes Odjick should be considered for an even higher honour.
“Of course, I’d like to see him in the Hockey Hall of Fame,” Leech said.
Odjick, however, simply laughed off that notion, adding that’s unlikely to ever happen.
“But Reggie Leach should be there for sure,” Odjick said of Leach, also a former Indigenous player who made it to the NHL, who has not yet been inducted.
Leach, who is Ojibwe and from the Berens River First Nation in Manitoba, appeared in 1,028 NHL games from 1970-83. He helped the Philadelphia Flyers win the Stanley Cup in 1975. And the following season he scored a career-high 61 goals in 80 games.
Leach added 24 points, including 19 goals in 16 playoff matches. Though the Flyers did not defend their Cup in ‘76, losing to the Montreal Canadiens in the final, Leach was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.
Odjick is the first Indigenous man that played for the Canucks to be inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame. He becomes the 13th Canucks’ player to be inducted.
“And there’s been a lot of guys that have played for the Canucks since 1970,” Odjick said, referencing the first year the Vancouver franchise played in the NHL.
Odjick now keeps tabs on his 20-year-old son Tobias, a forward who is playing in northeastern Ontario for the West Nipissing Lynx in the Greater Metro Jr. A Hockey League.
The younger Odjick has bounced around to eight different junior clubs in seven different leagues during the past five years.
“He just wants to keep playing,” Odjick said.
The other athletes who will enter the BC Sports Hall of Fame the same time as Odjick are Eli Pasquale (basketball), Dale Mitchell (soccer), Jason Delesalle (para athletics) and Gerry Gilmore(field hockey/basketball/soccer).
The 2021 induction class also includes three others who will be inducted via the Builder/Coaches category, one team, one pioneer and one media member.
The BC Sports Hall of Fame is located inside BC Place, which is the home field for the Canadian Football League’s BC Lions.
Former hall chair and former Lions’ president Ron Jones will also receive a special award as part of the 2021 induction class.