He was one of the toughest hombres to ever don the black and gold of the Brandon Wheat Kings.
But beloved fan favourite Jordin Tootoo admitted he had to fight hard to keep his emotions in check as he was showered with a thunderous ovation from a wild towel-waving, standing-room-only crowd at Westman Place on Sunday afternoon when he was introduced prior to Brandon's battle with the Moncton Wildcats at the MasterCard Memorial Cup.
"I was a little teary-eyed there, but I held it together and I just appreciate the support from the city of Brandon," Tootoo said. "It's kind of hard for me to watch from the stands, you know? This is where I started my career and this is where I became the player that I am today, and there's just many, many memories ...
"When everyone started cheering, there were butterflies in the stomach and it just gave me goose bumps right down my spine and like I said, it was a great feeling."
The rough and rugged Tootoo -- one of Brandon's 'Bruise Brothers' with former tough guy Randy Ponte -- gave fans plenty to cheer about during his four seasons in the Western Hockey League from 1999 to 2003, terrorizing opponents with a punishing physical style that made him the most feared hitter in the league.
While he didn't make it to the Memorial Cup as a player -- Tootoo and the Wheat Kings advanced as far as the Eastern Conference final in both 2002 and 2003 -- he was thrilled to return to Brandon to watch this year's edition take a run at the Cup.
"Absolutely I wanted to be back," said Tootoo, a 5-foot-9, 194-pound right-winger who scored 93 goals and racked up 209 points and a whopping 874 penalty minutes in 220 career games with the Wheat Kings. "This is where the next generation of NHL stars are going to be, and it's good that the city of Brandon got the Memorial Cup and I'm proud of the fact that the host city has been all-in and it's great."
The first player from Nunavut to play in the NHL, Tootoo was a fourth-round pick (98th overall) of the Nashville Predators in the 2001 draft and went straight from Brandon to Nashville to make his NHL debut as a 20-year-old. Now 27, Tootoo has played six seasons in the NHL, scoring 32 goals and notching 77 points with 572 penalty minutes in 355 games for Nashville, which was eliminated in six games in the opening round of the NHL playoffs by the Chicago Blackhawks.
"Obviously we play the game for one reason, and that's to win the Stanley Cup, and any time you have a chance to win, it's always a disappointment when you lose," Tootoo said. "We played great against Chicago, but their goalie played outstanding and if bounces don't go your way, you're not going to win at this time of the year. But it's good to see they are still in it and I just believe whoever comes out of the Western Conference is going to win the Stanley Cup."
As for Tootoo, he recently signed a two-year contract to remain in Nashville.
"My health is good and you go through your ups and downs throughout the season, but I just re-signed for two more years in Nashville and that's where I want to be and I want to win the Stanley Cup with the Predators," said Tootoo, who was originally from Rankin Inlet but now spends his off-seasons in Kelowna, B.C. "And obviously every year you want to mature as a player and become better, and I think that's really happening for me."