This is the one thing you can say about Gino Odjick without fear of contradiction: The man has friends.
"I've only got positive things to say about Gino," Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini said. "I've always admired him for the work he's done in his community. He's made a difference. I think that's the best thing you can say about him."
"I love the kid," says Pat Quinn, his former coach with the Canucks.
"He has a big heart. He always has.
We all care about what happens to him."
"I'll do anything I can to help him," says Ron Delorme, the Canucks longtime scout who's worked alongside Odjick in hockey schools and mentoring programs for aboriginal youths.
So people like Gino. And if that's all we knew about him, this would be so much simpler, so much easier to understand. He's a hero to many, a friend to even more; a fearless warrior and a tireless advocate for his people.
What's not to like about this story? Well, nothing. Except things tend to get a little more complicated with mental illness where the lines are never straight and the story is seldom predictable. People think they know Odjick, think they know what's going on in his world.
But they can't know, because no one can.
This is mental illness. You never know when it's going to strike. You never know how long it will last or how far it will take you down. As a player, they didn't come any tougher than Odjick.
But the opponent he's been fighting is even tougher.
Odjick, the one-time Canucks enforcer and one of the most popular players in franchise history, checked into a hospital in his hometown of Maniwaki last Thursday, complaining of severe headaches. This was after he'd spent the better part of a week in the psychiatric ward in a hospital in Gatineau, Que.
According to those in his inner circle, the aim is to get Odjick's meds in order while a consultation with a leading doctor in Toronto is arranged. This will take at least two more weeks.
"We're trying to find a balance," a source said. "This is a scary time."
"I am going to see some medicine people in Maniwaki, do a sweat and get the medicine working and be able to be on my way," Odjick told the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network on Wednesday.
Again, you just wish it was that easy.
A month ago, Odjick was a very visible part of Pavel Bure's jerseyretirement ceremony, but according to sources, he was also in a dark place. In an earlier interview with the Journal de Montreal's Mark de Foy, Odjick blamed his mental illness on post-concussion syndrome and his 160 career fights. Sources say there were also problems with his medication. And Odjick has had significant issues with substance abuse throughout his life.
But, whatever the cause, his behaviour had become erratic. Odjick is involved with business deals with Aquilini, and there's a story making the rounds he attempted to confront the Canucks owner at the team's offices.
His father, Joe, had also come to Vancouver to spend some time with his son before returning to Maniwaki. He passed away on Nov. 25.
Odjick then drove from Vancouver to Quebec where he was admitted to Pierre Janet Hospital Centre late last week. Sources say the loss of his father triggered a downward spiral.
This latest twist is part of an ongoing pattern in which Odjick seems to function at a high level before encountering turbulence. He is, by all accounts, a shrewd businessman
who's done well financially in his post-hockey career. He's also recognized as a leader in the aboriginal community where he's devoted himself to causes associated with young people.
"He's had a business and he's done well," Quinn says. "But his real business has been helping kids."
Quinn has remained close to Odjick over the years and says, in his conversations with him, he always sounded lucid and upbeat. Later, Quinn learned Odjick had often called him from a hospital ward.
"He'd never let on he was having problems," Quinn says.
But maybe it's time. Maybe that's a good place to start.
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