Tootoo just wants to play hockey

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 12:35 PM ET

Jordin Tootoo hears the whispers about the NHL lockout coming to an end in the near future, but all he's worried about is getting ready for next season.

The simplistic approach is similar to the one he used last season when the pride of Rankin Inlet, Nunavut was playing for the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League.

"I'll let the business people take care of the business, all I want to do is play hockey," Tootoo said yesterday. "Hopefully I'll get that phone call that the league is back up. That day will come soon enough. I'm going to use the summer to get myself in tip-top shape."

Tootoo, who has purchased a house in Winnipeg, is hoping to add about five to seven pounds of muscle to his frame to get him to 203 pounds, while maintaining a high level of physical fitness.

There was a noticeable adjustment period for Tootoo when he made the step from an energy forward with the Nashville Predators, who was used sparingly in 70 games during the 2003-04 NHL season, to taking a regular shift with the Admirals last season.

"My ultimate goal in the NHL is to be a second- or third-line winger," said Tootoo, who finished with 10 goals, 22 points and 266 penalty minutes in 59 games last season. "By playing in Milwaukee, it gave me the opportunity to play 10 to 15 minutes a game. When you play more minutes, you obviously feel more comfortable. It was a perfect fit for me.

"It was definitely a challenge. You have to be in a lot better shape. I'm going to use this summer to get myself back to where I want to be."

Another Winnipegger, Nigel Dawes, is preparing for his first pro season. He's still getting stopped on the street and being congratulated for winning gold at the World Junior Hockey Championship in January.

Dawes is optimistic the labour unrest seems to be subsiding as the NHL and NHLPA get closer to finalizing a new collective bargaining agreement.

"It's always nice when you know there is going to be a season," said Dawes, who signed an entry-level contract with the New York Rangers and will likely spend the 2005-06 season with the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL. "The summer has gone by pretty fast. I took some time off when I got home but now it's a matter of getting ready. You have to give yourself the best chance possible."

Tootoo and Dawes will be among the high-profile instructors at the Mike Thomas Professional Hockey School, which takes place at the Canlan Ice Sports (formerly the Highlander Arena) July 4-8.


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