Gino Odjick, Canucks fan favourite, dead at 52

Former Vancouver Canucks' enforcer Gino Odjick pauses to look at the hundreds of fans that gathered to support him outside Vancouver General Hospital on June 29, 2014.  (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Former Vancouver Canucks' enforcer Gino Odjick pauses to look at the hundreds of fans that gathered to support him outside Vancouver General Hospital on June 29, 2014. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Former Vancouver Canucks enforcer and fan favourite Gino Odjick has died at the age of 52.

His death was confirmed by the team and his sister, Dina Odjick, on Sunday.

"Our hearts are broken. My brother Gino Odjick has left us for the spirit world," Dina wrote on Facebook.

Odjick played in the NHL from 1990 to 2002, including eight years in Vancouver and two in Montreal.

He also played for the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers, recording a career total 64 goals, 73 assists and 2,567 penalty minutes in 605 regular season games.

Odjick, who played 44 playoff games with Vancouver and Montreal, scoring four goals and an assist, often elicited the chant of "Gino, Gino" from fans who appreciated his fierce style of play.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

"Gino will be sorely missed. He was such an icon here, and anybody that met him loved the guy," Canucks president Jim Rutherford said during a news conference Monday, offering his condolences to the Odjick family.

"Yesterday was a very sad day."

Odjick was a key member of the 1994 Canucks team that lost the Stanley Cup in Game 7 of the final against the New York Rangers.

The 2,127 penalty minutes he amassed as a Canuck is the most in franchise history.

Odjick, from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation near Maniwaki, Que., announced nine years ago he had a rare terminal illness affecting his heart — AL (primary) amyloidosis. Doctors said he had as little as a few weeks to live.

At the time, he wrote an open letter to fans, thanking them for their support over the duration of his career.

"Your 'Gino, Gino' cheers were my favourite. I wish I could hear them again. You have been amazing," he wrote.

FROM THE ARCHIVES | Gino Odjick surprises fans outside hospital in 2014:

He also specifically addressed his Indigenous heritage.

"It also means the world to me that my hockey career gave me a chance to open doors for kids in [the] Aboriginal community. I was just a little old Indian boy from the rez. If I could do it, so could they."

Peter Leech, a member of the St'at'imc Tribal Nation who was friends with Odjick for nearly 30 years, recalled the decades they spent working together.

"He didn't just touch a lot of people with his hockey ability over the years as a Canuck and playing with a few other teams. He did make a huge impact in Indigenous communities ... [with] a lot of the Indigenous youth.

"People always follow courage," he added, referring to Odjick as his "brother."

"He was always viewed as a warrior among warriors."

Marcia McNaughton, a close friend of Odjick's over the past 15 years, said he chose the number 29 for his hockey career because it was his father's identification number from residential school.

After retiring from the NHL in 2002, Odjick concentrated on being an Indigenous role model. He staged various workshops throughout B.C. on issues including goal setting, relationship building and communication skills while promoting anti-bullying characteristics.

Odjick rallied from his illness after moving to the Ottawa area, where doctors started an experimental treatment.

Canadian Press
Canadian Press

'Kicked ass'

McNaughton was with Odjick in hospital in 2014 in Vancouver when fans rallied outside to chant his name.

She said his death was a surprise, despite his health challenges. She was expecting to see him Wednesday at a Canucks home game.

"My heart's broken, as is probably all of British Columbia, every Canuck fan, and you name it," she said.

McNaughton wants people to remember Odjick for his kindness, warmth and resilience.

"Fighter, through and through, that's who he is, and that's who he was," she said. "He made it longer than probably he was supposed to, and he kicked ass while doing it."

On Sunday, many people posted messages on social media saying Odjick was a special person who gave back to the communities he lived in.

Canucks vice-president of operations Stan Smyl, one of Odjick's former teammates, spoke glowingly of him on Sunday.

"He was a very special individual," Smyl said, adding Odjick always fulfilled his tough-guy role on the ice.

"Off the ice, he was one of the most kindest human beings that I've met and played with."

Flags at all City of Vancouver buildings were lowered to half-mast in recognition of Odjick's contributions to the city.

"It is with great sadness that Vancouver mourns the loss of Gino Odjick," Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim said Monday in a statement.

"Gino's story is one of strength — a trailblazer and a Vancouver icon, a man who broke down barriers in professional sports and offered inspiration and hope to thousands of Vancouverites in his retirement."

Musqueam Chief Wayne Sparrow called Odjick a great athlete, community member and friend.

"We are proud that Gino called Musqueam home for over three decades — investing in our community's future and becoming family to me and many others."