Ground Zero for Haliburton’s Cody Hodgson – hard core proving ground

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Ah. Memories. Now, who'd a thunk that these two prodigious prodigals would start their budding careers just a year apart. With the Huskies. In the old Dysart Barn? Photo by Terrance Gavan. Pictures can be downloaded at will. Give a pop to the kid with a camera if possible. Terrance Gavan. IFW. Internet Free World.


Vancouver Canucks top prospect is still Haliburton’s Cody Hodgson. After all these years. He’s still the man on a mission. Still the man with a plan. And still a coveted piece in the Van City puzzle.

Hodgson is the Canucks’ number one draft choice from the 2008 draft. He was drafted 10th overall in 2008.

It seems like an eternity ago now, but it’s really only a quick click  of the proverbial eyeball for an NHL neophyte.

Hodgson and the Canucks, like starcrossed lovers, are a dyspeptic couple. Hodgson seemed a perfect pick for the Canucks. He’s a borm leader, was the captain of a very successful Brampton Battalion team that – along with fellow Haliburtonian Matt Duchene – just missed out on a trip to the Memorial Cup in 2008-09. They lost to the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL finals.

Cody Hodgson went on to join the Manitoba Moose – Van City’s AHL affiliate – for their home stretch run at the Calder Cup. The Moose and Hodgson eventually lost to Hershey Bears in the AHL finals. Hodgson had 2 goals and 4 assists in 11 playoff games.

That summer Hodgson joined Dave Gagner’s high performance gym and training center. He made another run at cracking the Vancouver line up that fall, but was eventually sent back to the Battalion for his final junior year.

Hodgson led the Battalion with 43 goals and 49 assists (92 points) in 2008-09 and also led Team Canada juniors to the gold in that same year with 5 goals and 11 assists – top Canadian point getter – in six World Junior Championship games.

The next year Hodgson appeared at the Canucks training camp under duress. He had developed a back injury, was sent back to the Battalion where he played only 13 regular season games during  that 2009-10 season. Duchene stepped up to lead the Battalion in Hodgson’s absence.

Hodgson returned for a shortened playoff run scoring 3 goals and 7 assists in 11 playoff games. And that’s when Hodgson’s dream to play in the NHL took a severe turn. From top Canuck prospect, Hodgson’s stock began to plummet. He stuttered from can’t miss NHL leader to “the kid with the bad back.”

That’s a hard knock for a young man and especially tough for Hodgson because he was after all, kid dynamite,  a born leader, who was trying to bust into one of the strongest line-ups in the NHL. He was bad-rapped by a great many fans and some pundits as a “problem.”

No problem. This was the story of a young man who had probably been mishandled in the beginning by his parent club. Mike Gillis, the Canucks GM, said as much when the team apologized to Hodgson and his family for a misdiagnosis of his back injury.

Well, long story short. Hodgson’s back is healthy. For the nonce. He’s come back heavier, but stronger. Gary Roberts, fitness guru and former NHL’er, trains a lot of young NHL pros and prospects at his training facility. Hodgson practically lived there over the summer.

Now? He’s a member of the Gary Roberts rejuvenation society and fan club. He’s also been privy to some one-on-one  mentorship courtesy of another NHL veteran ClaudeLemieux.

And this fall, he’s been relegated once again to top prospect status.

But don’t take my word for it. The Globe and Mail’s Matthew Sekeres had an opportunity to assess the Haliburton cottager from the catbird seat as Hodgson centered the Canucks’ top line in an exhibition. No, he wasn’t skating with the Sedin twins. They are still penciled in – along with top center Alex Burrows – as the number one asSASin line and they hold the key to Vancouver’s war chest.

However, the SAS trio are not playing in the early exhibition games says the Globe and Mail’s Matthew Sekeres.

The Vancouver Canucks entered training camp knowing that the Sedin twins and Alex Burrows would form their top line,” writes Sekeres, “and that Ryan Kesler will centre their second line once he is healthy.”

But who plays with Kesler, or with his replacement, will be determined by the next two weeks, particularly by the slate of preseason games, which begin Tuesday. The Canucks will send a team to Calgary to face a Flames split squad, while another group remains in Vancouver for a game against the Flames at Rogers Arena.

Kesler is likely to miss the beginning of the season, and for the moment, top prospect Cody Hodgson is being given an opportunity to fill his role. Head coach Alain Vigneault explained that he wants to give Hodgson a chance to play his natural position, especially with Kesler on the mend from off-season hip surgery.

Another second-line player for the Canucks, winger Mason Raymond, will also miss the beginning of the season. Raymond underwent surgery after fracturing a vertebrae in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final against the Boston Bruins. He isn’t expected back until November at the earliest.

With two players missing, the composition of Vancouver’s second line is very much an unanswered question.

“Right now, there [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][are many] combinations,” Vigneault said when asked about the composition of his No. 2 forward trio. “I think it’s pretty easy to see within our group, which players have that offensive potential. We’re going to give those guys an opportunity.”

Hodgson is getting his chance, but he’s facing a tough crowd in Vigneault and Gillis.

But Hodgson seems prepared to hammer away and jostle elbows akimbo for a spot.

Now, even if Cody earns a well-deserved place top six to begin the season? What happens when Kesler returns? It’s a given that Kesler will center the number two line and where does that leave The Haliburton Hawkeye?

“Vigneault has Chris Higgins shuttling between wing and centre during camp, and he won’t play Tuesday on either split squad,” Says Sekeres.

“Higgins’s place with the Canucks is secure, but camp will determine where he fits. He had some success skating on Kesler’s flank last season, and he prefers playing wing to centre.

“He is responsible defensively, and a three-time 20-goal scorer. Ideally, Higgins would play wing with Manny Malhotra and Jannik Hansen on a shutdown third line, but the Canucks may not have that luxury.

“Malhotra (eye) is also ailing, and if both he and Kesler are missing come next month, then Higgins may have to move to the middle.”

Hodgson is letting the fluttering twitter hover for the nonce.

“The goal, obviously, is to make the team and become a regular in the National Hockey League,” Hodgson said in another interview.

“It was a great summer, and I’ve gained a few pounds of muscle,” Hodgson said. “I feel more solid on the ice. I feel more explosive, and hopefully it translates into a better hockey game.”

I’ve been cheering for the Hawkeye for three years and all that cheerleading has left me on the no-fly list with the Vancouver organization, who won’t, alas, alack and anon, return my calls.

C’est la vie.