Canucks fan favorite Gino Odjick remembered for his mentorship of Indigenous youth | TBEN news

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Whenever Gino Odjick and his close friend Peter Leech visited an Indigenous community, the couple always felt the journey was cathartic.

“We always thought of the work we did within the communities as medicine for us,” said Leech, a member of the St’at’imc Tribal Nation who was friends with Odjick for nearly 30 years.

“It has helped us mentally, emotionally and spiritually,” he said.

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Odjick was widely known for his role as an enforcer on the ice, but spent much of his life guiding Indigenous youth in communities across the country to set goals and chase their dreams – on the ice or in A classroom.

Odjick and Leech visited about three to four communities a month and organized workshops. Leech says they were initially sports-related, but would broaden over the years, emphasizing personal growth in all areas.

A woman cheers and holds a sign as hundreds of fans gather in support of Vancouver Canucks enforcer Gino Odjick outside VGH on June 29, 2014. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

“We always stuck with education, education, education,” Leech said of their messages to youth. “When you follow an education, you have the freedom to make choices.”

There were days when the couple would see the difference they made.

“A young lady we met at the age of 13. She wanted to thank us. She came over and thanked us both personally. She said we influenced her to become a lawyer. She was 24 when we saw her again Leech said.

Odjick goes through Merit during his Journey of Healing.
Odjick runs through Merritt, BC, in the summer of 1995 on his Journey of Healing, a commitment to help Native youth that would last until the end of his life. (TBEN News)

Spiritual healing journey

In 1995, Odjick began his Journey of Healing between Calgary and Vancouver, stopping at 14 communities along the way to raise awareness of the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

Chief Jen Thomas of the Tsliel-Waututh First Nation helped organize the tour, recalling Odjick’s insistence that they fit in as many stops as possible.

“It was very hard work, but we got it done in a very short time,” said Thomas.

“He was greeted by people of all ages,” said Thomas. “From the little ones all the way up to the elderly. It really meant a lot to those First Nations communities that he went out of his way to show up.”

“It really showed that everyone was important to him.”

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Native hockey

Odjick’s visits extended all over the country.

Stephane Friday, co-founder and CEO of the nonprofit Hockey Indigenous, still remembers the day Odjick visited his Kashechewan First Nation, north of Timmins, Ont. He was then six years old.

“It was pretty amazing,” he said. “I remember I was very nervous. He was big. He was tall… it was a great experience.”

Friday, whose community was about 400 miles from where Odjick grew up, credits him as a pioneer for area youth who were inspired to see someone from the area find success in the NHL.

“His style of play was pretty unique,” said Friday. “That gave a different mindset to our youth, like, OK, some youth may know they’re not a goal scorer, but they know they can still make it to the NHL in that kind of style.”

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