THE BLOG
06/27/2014 05:12 EDT | Updated 08/27/2014 05:59 EDT

Gino Odjick's Underdog Story Needs A Miracle Ending

Ken Levine via Getty Images
1990-1991: Leftwinger Gino Odjick of the Vancouver Canucks. Mandatory Credit: Ken Levine /Allsport

My favourite movies tend to involve underdog athletes. It's hard to resist stories that chronicle struggle, persistence, and ultimately physical and/or spiritual triumph.

The best ones are based on real life, because no one can invent these "against all odds" tales: Michael Oher's rise from the homeless son of a crack addict to an NFL star in "The Blind Side"; two gifted young basketball players from inner-city Chicago in "Hoop Dreams" and their agonizing highs and lows; an aging baseball coach in "The Rookie" with a shot at a last-chance tryout.

Gino Odjick's story is a classic Hollywood script, and today, countless fans of the former Vancouver Canuck are rooting for a miracle ending.

In a touching letter posted on the team's website, Odjick revealed he is fighting a rare and terminal condition: "It's hardening my heart and my doctors aren't sure how long I have to live. Initially they thought years, but now they think it could be a lot less. I could be down to months or even weeks."

Born on an Algonquin reserve in Quebec, Odjick was a fifth-round draft pick. Like all great characters, he wasn't earmarked to be a star in the traditional sense. He didn't score goals or have any slick moves.

He was an enforcer, a fighter; the guy with the toothless grin who fiercely protected his teammates. To Canucks fans in the '90s like me, Gino WAS a star. He had heart.

His on-ice fights were legendary, usually ending up with a torn shirt, and his pads, stick, helmet scattered across the ice. Fans went wild when Odjick dropped his gloves. As a parent of young boys, I'm not supposed to condone hockey fighting, but I will admit to joining the crowd on their feet at the Pacific Coliseum back then, chanting at the top of my lungs, "Gino! Gino! Gino!"

The musical score of Gino's movie would no doubt crescendo with footage of an unforgettable penalty shot against the Calgary Flames. It still makes me grin.

A rare aboriginal player in the NHL, Odjick bonded with Russian superstar Pavel Bure, another outsider who arrived in Vancouver in 1991. The two are still very close.

I remember going to a charity fundraiser hosted by the Vancouver Canucks in the '90s. All of us fans would cluster around the goal-scoring stars. Bure quietly signed autographs, but he was tepid at best to all the attention. Gino, on the other hand, was down-to-earth, cracking jokes and making a lot of time for fans, especially kids.

A successful businessman, Odjick, just 43, is still adored as a role model in the aboriginal community.

"It also means the world to me that my hockey career gave me a chance to open doors for kids in (the) aboriginal community. I was just a little old Indian boy from the Rez. If I could do it, so could they," he wrote. "My hope is that my hockey story helps show kids from home what's possible. I always tell them that education is freedom."

But he had his demons, too, struggling with substance abuse and mental illness.

You can see why this is an underdog sports tale we're hoping will somehow, as former teammate Cliff Ronning said on CBC Radio, lead to a "miracle."

These days, the warrior moves with a walker, hooked to an oxygen tank, weakened by chemo.

"My spirit is strong even if my body isn't," wrote Odjick. "This isn't goodbye, but I wanted you to know what is happening."

Just a day after learning of Odjick's condition, fans are already organizing rallies for outside the Vancouver General Hospital where he's staying. Not to say goodbye, but to chant a few more times, "Gino! Gino! Gino!"

Gino Odjick