Little guy Hodge stood tall for Habs


Hodge displays his Vézina Trophy replica last year at his home in Langley, B.C.

Hodge displays his Vézina Trophy replica last year at his home in Langley, B.C.


There is a street in the Ste. Dorothée district of Laval called Rue Hodge, the mailing address of a dozen or so houses not unlike countless others in suburbia.

Go door to door down this quiet road, between Rue Dautry and Chemin du Bord de l'Eau, and chances are excellent that not one of its residents will know for whom their street is named.

Indeed, by whom it was named - a terrific little goaltender who won four Stanley Cups and two Vézina trophies with glorious teams of the Canadiens' past.

Charlie Hodge, still 5-foot-7 if not the 150 pounds he was during his playing days, was back in town yesterday. For two hours he shook hands, posed for photos, signed autographs and chatted with fans in English and French, a popular guest at the Collectors' International sale and exposition at Centre Pierre Charbonneau.

The 75-year-old Lachine native was home less than a day, ending his visit with a melancholy stop at a St. Laurent cemetery, on his way to Dorval for an afternoon flight back to Vancouver.

"I want to put flowers on my parents' grave before the winter," he said.

Hodge hadn't nearly the time to visit his namesake street in Ste. Dorothée. He's been rarely back since he left Montreal in 1967, having settled in Oakland then Vancouver, the two cities where he played hockey post-Canadiens and made himself a life in business and NHL scouting after his 1971 retirement.

He had invested in real estate early in his career, building a home on a nameless street in the new development north of Montreal. In fact, Hodge owned four lots, a couple more than teammate Henri Richard, and made a trip to town hall with a bold suggestion.

"I told somebody there, 'I'll call it Hodge Ave.,' '' he remembered. "They said: 'That's fine.' But they called it Rue Hodge.

"I wasn't aware of the market when I sold my lots, and I should have gotten double what I did for them. I'm sure Henri sold his for a lot more. But then, the street isn't named after him."

For years, Hodge kidded teammates that he'd be better remembered as an avenue than a goaltender.

That's hardly true, a point made clear yesterday by the scores of fans who paid $20 for his signature on photos, pucks, jerseys, sticks and at least one miniature Stanley Cup.

It's been written that Hodge's father, John, had set up a net in the family's basement to hone his young son's skills.

"We didn't have a basement," he sniffed. "We were in a tenement house. My dad only had one eye. He put a net in the living room, moved the furniture, got down on his hands and knees and swatted a ball at me."

Hodge seemed a career minor-leaguer, playing 529 games for nine teams outside the NHL from 1953 to 1963 while seeing action only 59 times for the Canadiens. Always he was an emergency substitute for an injured Jacques Plante; always he was shipped back when Plante recovered.

Plante was dealt to the New York Rangers in a seven-player trade in June 1963, yet it was incoming Gump Worsley who was pegged by coach Toe Blake as the Canadiens starter.

But when Worsley was hurt that fall, Hodge took the call in Quebec City, where he was playing for the American league Aces.

Another Montreal pitstop, he figured, packing only a shaving kit, pyjamas and an extra shirt. But this time he stayed for 62 games, edging Chicago's Glenn Hall by two goals to win the Vézina with eight shutouts and a 2.26 average.

"There were times when it was very good," Hodge said of that season. "But let's face it, one of the fellows who deserved a lot of credit for it was Claude Provost. He was a hell of a checker."

By now Hodge's name already was engraved on the Stanley Cup four times, though among those he counts only his 12-game 1957-58 as legitimate, Plante having shouldered the load.

Hodge claims only three championships, adding 1964-65 and 1965-66, having shared the Vézina with Worsley the latter year. But you'll find his name on the Cup seven times, including 1991-92 with Pittsburgh as a scout. It is spelled four different ways on the sterling bands - C Hodge, CH Hodge, Charles Hodge and Charlie Hodge.

He was signing "Charlie" yesterday, as he does only for memorabilia.

"I sign cheques a different way and legal documents a way different than that," he said. "If anybody copies what I sign today then tries to forge something legal, I can say: 'No, this is not my signature.'

"It's not that I don't trust anybody," he added, laughing. "It's just that I don't trust anybody."

Hodge's days in Montreal ended in 1967, claimed by the California Golden Seals when the Canadiens left him unprotected in June's expansion draft.

It was hardly a picnic tending goal behind the Seals' invisible defence. But Hodge, then 34, enjoyed playing for coach Bert Olmstead, a 1950s Canadiens teammate who shared an intensity ingrained by the CH.

His favourite game during his three-year Bay Area stay came in November against the Canadiens and his old friend, John Ferguson, a 2-1 home-ice victory.

"John was being a smart aleck, he came by the front of the net and smacked me in the behind, hitting me so hard you could hear it throughout the building," Hodge recalled in Brad Kurtzberg's book Shorthanded: The Untold Story of the Seals.

"Well, a penalty was called and I started laughing. (Canadiens coach) Toe Blake chewed John out, and I had the satisfaction of beating the best."

From 58 games and Seals player-of-the-year honours in their inaugural season to 28 games the next two, Hodge wound up with the expansion Vancouver Canucks in 1970-71, where he retired after one year.

In 358 NHL games, he earned 61 shutouts and had an excellent 2.69 average, 2.38 in 16 more playoff games.

For two decades Hodge scouted B.C. for the Pittsburgh Penguins and does likewise still today for the Tampa Bay Lightning, bird-dogging junior games. And don't think he's not irked when instructed to study only the goaltenders taller than six feet.

There was ample leg room on any seat he chose for his flight home, the little guy lighter for a confession that had unburdened his soul.

"When I was young, my favourite goaltender, and I hate like hell to say it, was (Toronto's) Turk Broda," Hodge said, almost under his breath. "That was a no-no. When I realized that one training camp, I figured I'd better switch."

Hodge displays his Vézina Trophy replica last year at his home in Langley, B.C.

Hodge displays his Vézina Trophy replica last year at his home in Langley, B.C.



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