Vancouver Canucks have Gino Odjick in their corner for the playoffs

Gino Odjick didn't think he'd ever see another playoff game after being diagnosed with a terminal heart condition last year. But his treatment is working, and now he's a fixture at every Canucks game.

The beloved Canucks enforcer is beating back his terminal disease

Former Vancouver Canucks' enforcer Gino Odjick gets up out of a wheelchair and waves to hundreds of fans that gathered to support him outside Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday June 29, 2014. Darryl Dyck (The Canadian Press)

The Vancouver Canucks alumni suite at Rogers Arena is a popular place, especially during the playoffs. A lot of former players want in, but capacity is limited.

The Canucks get around the issue of demand outstripping supply by holding a ticket lottery before each game. That means luck of the draw determines the nightly mix in the suite. With one important exception: Gino Odjick.

Odjick has a guaranteed invitation for the playoffs and he hasn't missed a game. The Canucks know extending the welcome is the least they can do. After all, this is a man who last June was told by doctors he only had months to live

Outpouring of love

Back then rumours had begun swirling that Odjick was sick, dying even. Hundreds of fans rallied on the lawn outside Vancouver General Hospital to show support. They chanted  "Gino, Gino" like it was 1994 at the Pacific Coliseum.

That outpouring of love made for a beautiful scene. Then it turned a little frightening.

A woman cheers and holds a sign as hundreds of fans gather in support of Vancouver Canucks' enforcer Gino Odjick outside of VGH June 29, 2014. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Odjick was rolled outside in a wheelchair — frail, shrunken, barely able to speak. It was difficult to reconcile that the figure in a chair was also at one time the most feared enforcer in hockey.

Gino didn't look like Gino. Doctors used a term no one had ever heard before: terminal amyloidosis, a rare and degenerative heart condition. They said it was a fight he couldn't win. 

Except for the fact he could. The day after that scene at VGH Odjick commented on Facebook, "the rally yesterday was medicine for me, (it) tells me I have a lot to fight for."

A lot of heart

Four and a half months of chemotherapy followed. It was hell, but it worked. The disease slowed. Odjick started, ever so slowly, to feel better. 

Doctors now use the term "remission." The prognosis of a few months to live, has changed to three years. 

When Gino's current three-year lease on life is over, he'll start working on the next three. 

Peter Leech, a long-time friend Odjick's, who now acts as his helper/spokesperson, says Odjick's condition continues to improve. 

He still takes 37 pills per day, and his heart will never function at full capacity again. But it's better than doctors ever imagined.

According to Leech, Gino says when his current three-year lease on life is over, he'll start working on the next three. 

Up in the Canucks alumni suite Thursday night there was a lot of heart talk, but not concerning Gino specifically.

Former Vancouver Canucks' enforcer Gino Odjick, centre, is wheeled out from Vancouver General Hospital to greet hundreds of fans that gathered to support him in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday June 29, 2014. Darryl Dyck (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

He was in on the conversation. So were some other '94 Canucks alumni, reminiscing about the magical three straight overtime wins to beat Calgary 21 years ago.

Some wished they could will a bit of that '94 DNA to the current squad. They all agreed this year's Canucks, down 3-1 in the series, needed to show more heart.

When Daniel Sedin scored the go ahead goal, the alumni cheered. When Henrik Sedin manhandled Calgary goalie Jonas Hiller, they cheered even louder. Especially Gino.

About the Author

Karin Larsen

@CBCLarsen

Karin Larsen is a former Olympian and award winning sports broadcaster covering BC teams and athletes for 25 years.

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