When I heard of the health situation of Gino Odjick I felt very sad for him and his family. Although we never played together on the same team, I always felt we had a unique bond.
As I grew up watching the NHL, Gino was a guy that stood out. Here was this big guy, who was very tough and loved to score goals. I remember many of his crazy celebrations.
In 1997-1998, the winds of change blew through the Canucks organization. Pat Quinn was moving on and Tom Renney had been replaced by Mike Keenan. Mike was also in charge of making the moves, it seemed to me, and many of the longer tenured Canucks players were traded. Trevor Linden, Mike Sillinger, Dave Babych, Martin Gelinas, Jyrki Lumme and Kirk McLean were all dealt that season.
Gino Odjick was also on the list of “to be traded”.
At this point I was playing for the New York Islanders. We had just played in Edmonton against the Oilers — my very first game at home in front of family and friends. It was a great experience. The next morning we were on the plane heading to Vancouver to play the Canucks the following day. I was on cloud nine.
The Phone Call
We get to our hotel in Vancouver that afternoon. My roommate, veteran Claude Lapointe, and I were just about to settle in for a little nap. As we talked about who will get traded from our team or others around the league, the hotel room phone rings. As the rookie, I answered it (this is before cell phones).
“Is this Struds?”
“Yes it is.”
“Struds, Mike Milbury (then-G.M. of the Islanders) here. I just wanted to let you know you have been traded to the Vancouver Canucks. Thanks for everything, good luck. A representative of the Canucks will be calling you shortly. Bye”
I hung up and the look on my face must have been easy to read.
My roommate Lapointe asked what just happened so I filled him in. He thought it was just someone messing with me. That it was just too convenient that we were in Van and I was just traded here. He said to relax that it was just a hoax.
Two seconds later the phone rang again.
“Is this Jason Strudwick?”
“Yes it is.”
“Hi Jason. Mike Keenan calling. We are very happy to have traded for you today. Be downstairs in the lobby in five minutes. A Canucks representative will be there to take you to the rink for a press conference and then on to your new hotel. You will probably play tomorrow against the Islanders. Welcome and see you tomorrow.”
Needless to say my head was spinning as I repacked my stuff. I hugged my roomy good-bye and headed down stairs. I am not going to lie: I was very happy to be leaving the Islanders organization and heading west to Vancouver, but I had no idea what this could mean for my career.
The Press Conference
Gino did his press conference first. As I waited outside, I figured he would be upset to be leaving Vancouver. He was a fan favourite and well loved by the city.
Gino walked out and I walked in. The first question I got was “Gino just said he isn’t that upset about being traded but he is upset about being traded for someone he doesn’t even know. What do you say to that?”
That caught me off guard.
As I tried to digest what he said, I answered the question in the most polite way I could. To be honest I don’t remember what I said, but I remember thinking, ‘just don’t say much’.
The press conference wrapped up and before I knew it, I was in a new hotel as a member of the Vancouver Canucks.
I woke up the next morning and headed to the rink. I was going to meet my new teammates but I couldn’t get what Gino said out of my head. I have pride, and decided right then I was going to fight him! He was a very tough guy so it’s probably not the best choice, but my pride made me do it.
The game started and I went looking for Gino. He brushed me off a couple of times and then finally said yes. We started, and he was holding back. I was trying to hit him and he just waited. Just as I figured out he was letting me wear myself out, he got busy! I took a couple on the head and then we went down. Not a legendary fight, but I felt better.
After the game the press asked me why I wanted to fight Gino. I said, “He didn’t know who I was so I thought I would introduce myself!” That is a line I am still proud of.
About a year later I ran in Gino, and we had a chat. He apologized for what he said — what a guy! He said he was upset at the time and his emotions got the better of him. It was a unique moment that we shared. A moment that for me says a lot about the man that is loved by Vancouver and so many NHL fans.
Gino, all the best buddy.