NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It might be one of the most-inspirational sports stories of the National Hockey League season. And Jordin Tootoo is being recognized, in part, for getting his life back together.
Earlier this week it was announced that, born in Churchill and raised in Rankin Inlet, is the Nashville Predators nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy — awarded annually 'to a player who demonstrates perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.'
Tootoo didn't dress Saturday night against the Jets — a moved that raised some eyes in Nashville — but has been solid for the Preds with six goals in 68 games this year after successfully completing the NHL substance abuse program last year.
"The biggest growth with Toots has been off the ice in terms of him getting his life in order," said Predators head coach Barry Trotz. "That's been, to me, a really good story. He's really turned everything around. He's developed a little bit of an offensive game, that is good.
"There's still a lot of growth in him in terms of some of the detail. But he's a hard guy to play against when he's in that mode. The thought process and decision making, that's the area we want the most growth in; understanding there's a time for the physicality, there's a time for the offensive part and there's a time for the defensive part in terms of completing his game.
"He's not quite there yet, but he's made great strides over the course of time. He couldn't go forward unless he got everything off ice in order and he's done a great job and he's a great role model for that aspect. He's done a great job in the community and a great job in is personal life."
MUCHO RESPECTO: Claude Noel and Trotz have a mutual-admiration thing going, with Noel working for years as the head coach of the Preds' AHL affiliate in Milwaukee. Noel, like many NHL types, are impressed with how Trotz and GM David Poile have built the Preds from the ground up and are one of the models as to how to grow an expansion franchise.
"I have a lot of respect for David Poile and what he's done here," Noel said. "This is a role model for a lot of teams on how to draft and how to build a franchise. They've done a nice job here.
"It's a pretty good formula. For me having worked in this environment for eight years has helped me in a lot of ways. It was a really good experience and it helped me develop a good program and do some really good things. That may have come into play when I got hired here, maybe that's one of the reasons I got hired... besides my good looks.
Just kidding. Just kidding.
"The biggest thing for me is this organization has really shown stability in their staff and their personnel. They've stuck with people and it's worked out really well for them."
MR. EXITABLE: Trotz was asked prior to Saturday's game if he had to temper Alex Radulov's excitement, seeing as it was his first home game since returning from the KHL.
"That's the way he's wired. He's like (Patric) Hornqvist," Trotz said. "It's like the 'Espresso Line' with those two guys. There's a lot of energy with those two guys. I don't really temper it. What makes Rads special, obviously he's got good skills, is his willingness to compete. He's like a rink rat, he wants to be there all the time. He's like Hornqvist. They want to be there all the time, they want to be on the ice and be in important situations. From that standpoint, I don't want to temper him at all."
WHERE'S WILSON? Colin Wilson, born in Greenwich, Conn., but raised in Winnipeg, was cleared to return to the lineup Saturday from injury, but was not in the lineup. He will accompany the Preds on their next road trip.
Wilson has 15 goals and 19 assists for the Preds in 66 games this season, but it seems like Trotz is always pushing for more.
"He's a young player who, offensively, has talent," Trotz said. "He's big, he's got some dynamic ability, especially down low with his size and escapability. He can make plays and has really good vision. It's just completing his game to be a little more detailed on both sides of the puck. When that comes I think he can get to the next level."
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