Wonder on ice Hodgson dreams of life in NHL


Canucks prospect Cody Hodgson plays against the Edmonton Oilers in a pre-season game.

Canucks prospect Cody Hodgson plays against the Edmonton Oilers in a pre-season game.

Photograph by: Steve Bosch, Vancouver Sun files

As Vancouver Canucks winger Mason Raymond and the rest of the NHL’s YoungStars take to the ice at this weekend’s all-star festivities, youngsters like Cody Hodgson can only dream of what might one day be.

Hodgson, the Canucks first-round pick at the 2008 draft, dazzled the hockey-watching world at the world junior tournament in Ottawa earlier this month, racking up 16 points in six games to lead all tournament scorers.

The 18-year-old wonder on ice has also been setting scoresheets on fire for the Ontario Hockey League’s Brampton Battalion, having tucked away 26 goals and 26 assists for 52 points, a single point out of the league’s top 10, just halfway through the season.

While he was cut from the Canucks training camp and sent back to junior, and he admits that it hurt at the time, Hodgson and others are starting to salivate at the thought of what he might do one day in the NHL.

“I now see what the Canucks were seeing,” the six-foot, 188-pound centre said in a phone interview, understanding why he was deemed a little too green for the big league team and sent back to junior, which often happens to first-round picks for a season or two until they get a little bigger, stronger, faster and more able to keep up with the rigours of an NHL season. He even agrees that the decision was the right one.

But for now it all seems part of a distant past with Hodgson still basking in the glow of Canada’s gold-medal win against Sweden in Ottawa.

“The world junior experience was incredible,” said Hodgson, who caught the eye of the world with his poise both on and off the ice.

“It is something I will always remember. I think the best moment was standing on the blue line singing our national anthem. It was such a proud moment to be Canadian and I just really took it all in.”

He also liked what came afterward, with current Canucks players Ryan Johnson and Mason Raymond, the YoungStar who may soon be a Hodgson teammate, and some of the team’s coaches and front-office staff sending along messages of congratulations.

“That was a great surprise.”

Hodgson said he learned so much from playing in the worlds, particularly defensive positioning and how to “kind of take away their options and control the game even though you don’t have the puck.”

He also says he benefitted enormously with exposure to top-level coaching that included veteran hockey warhorse Pat Quinn as the head coach, and learned a lot about power plays and penalty killing from assistant coaches Dave Cameron, Willie Desjardins and Guy Boucher.

Hodgson is really hoping to make it to the Canucks’ roster next fall, but he knows there is still room for improvement.

“I need to get faster and to be able to control the puck at top speed,” he said. “I need to work on everything at the top speed level the way it is in the National Hockey League.”

Al Murray, head scout for Hockey Canada, is full of compliments for Hodgson, but agrees that he needs to get faster and stronger.

“He understands the game really well but, physically, I think he is still a young guy who is still maturing physically and all of those young guys need to improve on strength and those are the things that will come from getting older and working out more.”

Despite these shortcomings, Murray had high praise for the novice star.

“He is very responsible offensively and defensively. He rarely makes bad decisions with or without the puck.”

Until he manages to make the jump to the NHL, the captain of the Battalion continues to do battle there, leading the charge more by example than anything else.

“I try not to say too much and just let the play do the talking.”

Off the ice, Hodgson tries to lead the normal life of an 18-year-old. (At least until he turns 19 on Feb. 18.)

He was accepted into the business program at York University but attending Canucks camp made him miss the fall semester. And now that the university staff is on strike, he doesn’t know what he is going to do about school. But he figures there will lots of time in the future to worry about that.

Although most of his life is centred around the ice, he is grateful for the support of his two sisters, Charlotte and Caroline, and his older brother Clayton, who attends Brock University.

He is also the son of a former cabinet minister in the Mike Harris government although he laughs when he is asked what he knows about politics. Absolutely nothing, as it turns out.

But hockey is never far from his thoughts, and when the Canucks come calling, he says he’d have no trouble packing his bags and heading west.

“I loved it when I was out there. I loved the weather. People were really friendly. It’s a great city.”

And if he keeps talking like that, he’ll have no problem making fans when he arrives.

Know-It-All yzacharias@vancouversun.com

Canucks prospect Cody Hodgson plays against the Edmonton Oilers in a pre-season game.

Canucks prospect Cody Hodgson plays against the Edmonton Oilers in a pre-season game.

Photograph by: Steve Bosch, Vancouver Sun files

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