Monday, July 15, 2013

Part 17: Captain Cody Hodgson

For all he accomplished on the ice in four seasons with the Brampton Battalion, Cody Hodgson’s memories are just as strong for the people he met off the ice.

“My experience in Brampton was awesome,” Hodgson said recently via telephone from Buffalo where he is in his first full season with the National Hockey League’s Sabres.

“The people were always kind to me, the boosters were great too. There were some really dedicated, passionate fans. I made great connections to people, both inside and outside of hockey, that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

The Markham, Ont. resident came to the Battalion as the 17th overall choice in the 2006 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection and began his major junior career with an eight -game points streak in which he recorded seven goals and five assists for 12 points.

Hodgson was just one of a strong core group of rookies that included defencemen Brad Albert and Ken Peroff, right winger Jason Dale and goaltender Patrick Killeen and even though the Troops made the playoffs as the eighth and final seed and were swept in an Eastern Conference quarterfinal by the Barrie Colts, that group was sowing the seeds for something bigger down the road.

“We had some different characters then,” said Hodgson, who finished his first season with 46 points, including 23 goals, and helped lead Ontario under-17 team to a gold medal at the Canada Winter Games at Whitehorse, Yukon.

“That group of young guys that came in really learned from that season and as we moved on we took a different approach and learning from that season made us a better team. We wanted to have a better atmosphere around the team so when we became captains and assistants and assumed leadership roles we really tried to change things.

“They guys we had might not have looked like the most elite players from an outsider or scouting perspective, but we played well as a team. We liked and respected each other and we had a lot of fun. There was a lot of character in that room. We kept building off that and eventually that helped to produce a winner.

“I thought we stacked up pretty well against that Barrie team that season. We weren’t blown out, we hung in there pretty well and that really gave us confidence moving into the next season.”

In 2007-08 the Battalion was bolstered by the arrival of offensively gifted defenceman Bobby Sanguinetti in an offseason trade from the Owen Sound Attack, talented first-round pick Matt Duchene and a December trade that brought veteran centre Cory Emmerton from the Kingston Frontenacs.

“It was easy to learn from guys like Sanguinetti and Emmerton and see how they approached the game and how well they were able to dominate,” said Hodgson. “Playing with them and feeding off them was pretty special.”

Hodgson finished second in team scoring behind John Hughes, contributing 40 goals and 45 assists for 85 points in 68 games and emerged as one of the most talked-about prospects in advance of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He was the captain of the Canadian team that also featured Duchene and won gold at the World Under-18 Championship. Hodgson would eventually be chosen with the 10th overall pick in the Entry Draft by the Vancouver Canucks.

The 2008-09 season did not begin with much promise as the Battalion only won two of its first eight games, but with Hodgson, who had been named captain after being assigned by the Canucks on Oct. 6, serving the first game of a two-game suspension, the Troops began a 16-game winning streak with a 4-0 win over the visiting Sudbury Wolves a week later that made them one of the teams to beat in the OHL.

Hodgson headed off in December with the Canadian national junior team and starred in the World Junior Championship at Ottawa, leading the tournament in scoring with 16 points and earning a berth on the all-star team as the Canadians won the last in a string of five consecutive gold medals.

Meanwhile, back in Brampton, Stan Butler, director of hockey operations and head coach, was looking to bolster his lineup through the trade route in advance of the deadline and eventually brought in goaltender Thomas McCollum from the Guelph Storm, right winger Anthony Peluso from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, left winger Matt Kang from Kingston and defenceman Josh Day and right winger Andrew Merrett from the Niagara IceDogs.

“We couldn’t believe the additions that had been made,” said Hodgson. “We knew we weren’t going to have many opportunities like that one. We all knew we had something going, as a hockey player you always want to win and everything started clicking for us. We had good people who worked together, guys stuck around after practice to work on their games. We were all pretty dedicated to what we were doing to help us win games. We ramped it up because we knew what was at stake.”

Following his return from Ottawa Hodgson scored 19 goals and added 27 assists for 46 points in 30 games and worked on a points streak that eventually ended at a club-record 23 games. He led the team in scoring with 43 goals and 49 assists for 92 points in 53 games.

“It was special to play with that kind of top-end talent. If you look around the OHL there are talented players everywhere. Stan put that all together and that showed that he believed in how good we could be to go out at the deadline and made the deals for those guys. We knew we could do some real damage in the playoffs.”

The Battalion won the Central Division and swept the Peterborough Petes in a conference quarterfinal and ousted the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors in six games in a tough semifinal. The Troops eliminated the Belleville Bulls in six games in the conference final with Hodgson contributing three points, including two goals, in the final game. The Battalion advanced to the OHL Championship Series for the first time in its history and was defeated in five games by the Windsor Spitfires.

Hodgson led the Battalion in playoff scoring with 31 points and was showered with accolades after the season. A familiar name on the annual OHL Coaches Poll, he joined Wojtek Wolski as the only Battalion players to receive the Red Tilson Trophy as the OHL’s most outstanding player and, like Wolski, was also awarded the William Hanley Trophy as the league’s most sportsmanlike player. A first-team all-star selection, Hodgson became the first Battalion player to be named the Canadian Hockey League’s player of the year.

“I really enjoyed the whole season,” said Hodgson, who was immediately assigned to the Manitoba Moose, the Canucks’ American Hockey League affiliate. which was in the midst of a playoff run.

“I really enjoyed the OHL All-Star game and the Canada-Russia games. That year was pretty incredible. You don’t think a lot about it when it is going on, you’re just focused on doing your best every game. To me it was more about the people. I just don’t think of one specific moment or circumstance. I think of all the guys I played with. The guys made it really easy for me. It was always energetic and guys like Kang, Dale, Peroff and Derek Gregorack made it fun.”

The following summer Hodgson hurt his back while training and was eventually assigned to the Battalion by the Canucks on Sept. 29. Hodgson worked diligently on his rehabilitation with trainer Binne Brouwer and missed the first 50 games of the season, but returned on Feb. 4 with two assists in a 4-2 win over the visiting Erie Otters.

“It just showed me you can’t take anything for granted,” said Hodgson. “I got hurt and it became a struggle just to get back playing again and I never really got a chance to enjoy that season.

“You have to go through things like that to make you appreciate the good days. You really appreciate the people that you are around every day. I worked so much with Binne, who was great with me. You appreciate little things like being able to get out there and shoot and skate and play the game you love. That season helped me get a better perspective on hockey. I learned a little about life outside hockey too because I had no idea if I would be able to come back and play. I started looking into going to school.”

Hodgson suffered another injury, incurring a hairline fracture on his right foot after blocking a shot, but still managed to record 20 points, including eight goals, in 13 games. He added three goals and 10 points in 11 playoff games as the Battalion ousted the Frontenacs in seven games in a conference quarterfinal before being swept in the second round by the Colts.

“Guys like Matt Clark, Scott Tanski, Peroff and Albert were really stepping up. There was a lot of leadership on that team. The rookies really fed off that group and they really showed that as the season went on, particularly in the playoffs.

“Barrie had a great team that season. I knew we were good and if we played our best we could make a good series out of it. We fought hard and that really served the guys the next season when a lot of them stepped up their games.”

Hodgson finished his junior career with 114 goals, 129 assists and 243 points, second to Wolski on the Battalion’s all-time list in all three categories. His 23 game-winning goals are the most in club history and he is second to Wolski in power-play goals with 46 and his seven shorthanded goals are tied with Kamil Kreps for second all-time behind Wolski’s nine.

Hodgson is the preeminent postseason performer in Battalion history. He played 41 playoff games, tied for the most in club history with Albert, Tanski and Sam Carrick, and his 20 goals, 30 assists and 50 points are tops in each category.

“I had a great time in Brampton,” said Hodgson. “There were so many memories. It’s too bad the Battalion can’t stay in Brampton, it really looked like we had something going that season we went to the final. We had a lot of fans come out and some great support. I really appreciated that.”

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