On Saturday, before the Predators and Coyotes met at the Bridgestone Arena, a joint announcement was issued from the NHLPA and the NHL that Jordin Tootoo had been cleared to play with the Predators again.
Tootoo had missed 23 games and has been out of action since December 27 when he voluntarily requested to enter the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program administered by the NHLPA and the NHL. Going forward, he will continue to participate in the follow-up care phase of the program while he travels with the team.
On the ice on Saturday night, Tootoo appeared tentative and did not play with is usual edge. He skated 11 shifts, logging 10:03 in ice time. He had one shot, delivered two hits and was a minus one for the evening.
“Tootoo’s impact was a bit limited,” head coach Barry Trotz said about Tootoo’s return. “He’s missed seven weeks and that’s a hard train to catch.”
Always a fan favorite, Tootoo received a rousing reception from the crowd each time he entered the ice.
“The fans have been tremendous with me since day one. It’s great to see the support they’ve given to me,” Tootoo related. “I want to give a round of applause to them.”
Tootoo is aware that he is not yet playing at full speed.
“It’s obviously great to be back playing,” he said. “I’m just excited to be a part of the team again. I think I’ve just got to take it one day at a time here. It’s just not all going to fall in place in one day.
“I’ve just got to take it in stride. I’m looking forward to helping the team in games down the stretch.”
Tootoo was asked specifically if his time away changed the way he approaches the game. His response was slow to come out, “I grew up playing the game and anytime you’ve been away from the game sometimes things happen. I’m just happy to be back with the guys.”
No matter what he has been through, Tootoo’s comfort level is with his skates on playing the game that he loves and enjoying his Predator family of players, coaches, and especially the fans. It appears that he is ready to move on with his new life as well as to the next game.
“We got to regroup ourselves here early this week against Columbus and look forward to that,” Tootoo said.
Tootoo has more penalty minutes against the Blue Jackets (88 of 619 career PIMS) than any other NHL team and has always seemed to play with more enthusiasm whenever the Predators play Columbus.
He will return to Nationwide Arena tonight where he is not well liked so it will be a good test to see how he holds up to the jeers and cat-calls that will be as loud as ever. My bet is that Tootoo will be ready for the game and play a more Tootoo-esque game tonight.
He missed the game, his teammates, and the play on the ice. We may be ready to see Jordin Tootoo move to a new level of play now that he has put his past behind him and is ready to be a new man playing the game that his meant so much to him for his entire life.