It’s not every day that a random act of kindness leads to a lifelong friendship with a famous NHL player.
But that’s exactly what happened to Daniel Montour, who one spring day in 1994 saw a man lost in Kahnawake. After giving him directions, he learned that man was the father of Gino Odjick, who was at that time a left winger for the Vancouver Canucks.
“I asked him where he was from, and he said he was from Maniwaki. He said he was an Algonquin Indian. And he said his son is Gino Odjick, he’s in the playoffs right now, and they’re going for the Stanley Cup final,” said Montour. “I said, well, I’ve got time to kill, so I drove him all around, and I gave him a tour of Kahnawake.”
Two weeks later, Odjick and his father, Joe, showed up at the Kahnawake Peacekeepers’ station, where Montour worked. After a brief introduction, Odjick took Montour’s number, and promised he’d be back in a few weeks.
“I didn’t really think he would be, but a couple weeks later he calls me, and I brought him to my home,” Montour said. “We hit it off, and we were friends from that day on, ever since.”
The friendship blossomed, and it wasn’t long before Odjick was traded to the Montreal Canadiens.
“I’m sleeping, and he calls and he says, ‘Danny-boy, pick me up, I’m at the airport in Montreal,’” said Montour. “So I went to the airport, I picked him up, and I brought him home. And that’s when he moved in with me.”
And so began the golden years. Montour went everywhere with Odjick: to games, practices, charity fundraisers, you name it. And at the end of the night, Odjick would go back to Kahnawake, the place that was fast becoming his home away from home.
“In the early 2000s, he did a hockey clinic here in Kahnawake for the summer time. He loved it and he never denied anyone his time,” Montour explained. “One year, there were three Natives playing for the Canadiens: Arron Asham, Sheldon Souray, and Gino.
Gino said, ‘what can we do for the kids?’ and he told me he wanted to go to the school.”
The three players took boxes and boxes of pucks, books, and Montreal Canadiens’ merchandise to the local school and spent the day regaling Kahnawake’s youngest hockey fanatics.
“They loved it – and the adults too! He was just an awesome, kind man,” said Montour.
Montour began driving Odjick to the Canadiens arena multiple times a week.
“I would always drive for him from the Bell Centre and back, and we would come out of the Bell Centre in this big Expedition, a big black one. It looked like he was the president of the United States in that vehicle,” joked Montour.
“There were always so many people there, all trying to get his autograph. I was like his bodyguard, like he was a movie star. But he never, ever denied anyone an autograph. He always gave his time. Especially for other First Nations people.”
Odjick was known as an enforcer on the ice, a player whose role is to intimidate and respond to violence from the opposition. He was a fighter, missing his two front teeth and almost always boasting a black eye or scratches on his face. But he had one rule for his coaches.
“He said, ‘don’t ever send me after a First Nations player,’” Montour explained. “He said, ‘I’ll never fight them. There’s only a few of us in this league, and we’re going to stick together.’ He told that to every team he ever played for in the NHL.”
While Odjick could be ruthless on the ice – during one game he took on the entire St. Louis Blues team, and ended up shirtless and bloody, but still literally beating his rival – he was the opposite outside the arena.
“One time, we had a wrestling event, and everyone said, ‘Do you think Gino would come?’” Montour said. “So I asked him, and he said ‘But what am I going to do?’ He came to it, but he was nervous! The gentle giant got nervous.”
All the favours Montour did for Odjick throughout the years didn’t go unnoticed. Montour was given the VIP treatment at every tournament and practice – with Odjick often bending the rules to bring his best buddy along with him.
“He invited me to training camp in Lake Placid. Nobody gets in there, nobody,” Montour said. “When I got there, the guard said I couldn’t go in because I didn’t have a pass. And then I said I was with Gino, a teammate heard me, and they said ‘Hey, yo, let him in. Let this man in here.’”
Montour was ushered into the arena.
“I go down there, and Gino’s got his fist in a bucket of ice water. He says, ‘I beat one up already.’ I thought to myself, oh, crazy, okay. And then he got me a cot in his room, and I stayed with him for the whole camp.”
Odjick was like family to Montour. Kahnawake became Odjick’s home, but Kitigan Zibi became a special place for Montour, too.
“The first home he built was one of the big, huge longhouses, back at Maniwaki,” Montour said. “I visited there. He had kids, and I had kids. His kids were like my family. I would drive to Maniwaki and see it all, this huge house right by the lake.”
In 2014, Odjick was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder that led to heart problems. Though experimental treatments extended his life considerably, Odjick passed away from a heart attack in Vancouver on January 15. As Montour shared his memories with The Eastern Door, he wore one of Odjick’s own Canucks jerseys.
“He was my best friend,” Montour said. “I’m going to miss him very, very dearly.”