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Ex-Wing Jordin Tootoo appreciates sober life

Chris Kuc
Chicago Tribune

Blackhawks forward Jordin Tootoo sits at the dining room table cradling his daughter while she drinks from a bottle, laughing when the 8-month-old gives a contented “ahhh.”

That scene is a stark contrast to when, as a teenager, Tootoo showed up to his future wife’s Sweet 16 birthday party carrying a six-pack of beer.

Or later when he would grab his best friend by the ankles to drag him out of bed so the two could go on drinking binges during a time when Tootoo’s out-of-control lifestyle nearly derailed his NHL career.

The Jordin Tootoo of today, a former Red Wing and devoted family man who says he hasn’t touched a drop of alcohol in more than six years, has moved on from what he refers to as his “past life.”

It was a life that, beginning in his teen years, meant drinking to excess during the harsh days and nights spent not far from the Arctic Circle — in a town where the only way in or out was by plane or snowmobile.

It was a way of life that escalated after the suicide of his brother and reached its apex after Tootoo became the first player of Inuk descent to reach the NHL, where fame and fortune only fueled the opportunities to drink.

Tootoo does have a new life, one spent substance-free and trying to help the Hawks win the Stanley Cup and coming home to a loving wife, Jen, and daughter, Siena, where he is now as comfortable as he ever was on the ice.

“You look at life from a different perspective when you’re comfortable and content in your own skin,” Tootoo said. “You understand the meaning of life.”

Which is?

“Right here,” he said, looking at his daughter. “It’s a balance and understanding that when you create something it’s not all about you anymore. I changed my ways to change the cycle for my kids, for the next generation of my family. For me, this is an opportunity to be better.”

Clean and sober, Tootoo detailed his struggle in a book called “All The Way: My Life on Ice,” which was released in October of ‘14 while he was with the Devils. He said it was cathartic to tell his story.

“I wrote it for me personally,” Tootoo said. “I felt like it was the right time in my life to turn the page and get it all off my shoulders. It helped my family understand how things are and why things were the way they were. I told them that I’m grateful for every experience that I’ve had. It has made me who I am today.”

Today, Tootoo is a husband and father first and a hockey player second. Living in former Hawks forward Andrew Shaw’s house not far from the United Center, Tootoo, 34, has settled in domestically.

“I never ever at the time envisioned being settled down,” he said.

Jen Tootoo, who married Jordin in 2014, described her husband’s transformation from party animal to tea-drinking family man as “mind-blowing.”

“I never even thought about marrying him — I just didn’t see him as that guy,” she said.

“And he’s just a totally different person. I’m just really proud of him. He’s a man of his word and he knows who he is as a person.”