The femur is the hardest bone to break in the human body.
Coda Gordon knows this all too well after snapping his femur in two in a bantam hockey game in 2008.
The way Gordon excelled in his rookie season with the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League this season, it’s hard to imagine that just four years ago, he had to re-learn how to walk, and skate, after his injury.
(Photo:Courtesy of Jim Gordon)
"The doctor said it was like a car-accident break. He had never seen it as a hockey injury before," Gordon told NHL.com. "I'm not quite sure how I managed to do it, but I did. It was the worst pain I've experienced."
A cross-check sent Gordon awkwardly to the ice, breaking his leg in the process. He needed surgery, which saw him receive two 12-inch pins that spanned the length of his thigh and connected the two broken pieces. After the surgery, Gordon was in a full body cast for five weeks, followed by a month in a wheelchair before another surgery to remove the pins. Then he had to go through months of grueling physical therapy to get back on his feet.
"When I first started to try and walk again I had a huge limp and I used a cane for a little bit," Gordon said. "Once I was able to start skating and stuff, I went to see a chiropractor because my one leg was shorter than the other one, so I had to get that back to the same length, so it took a while before I could play hockey again."
Luckily for Gordon, he was a late-bloomer physically, so with a lot of determination and support from friends and family, the devastating leg injury didn’t hamper his hockey career -- in fact, it only reassured his passion to play at an elite level.
“From the beginning, I wanted to be a hockey player -- I loved the game,” he said. “I knew [the injury] was just a fluke accident and it wouldn’t happen again, at least not right away, so I figured why not. I still loved to play.”
Gordon’s love of the game was evident in his 53-point performance with the Broncos this season. The 6-foot, 175-pound left wing was second on the team and eighth in points and WHL rookies, and he was fourth among first-year league players with 30 goals.
"He's one of the smartest players that I've coached," Swift Current Bronco GM/coach Mark Lamb said. "When he went through training camp he was making all kinds of good plays and very smart plays. So we realized that he is one of those players that has to play in the top six in a real offensive role. We put him in that role and he never left it."
Lamb said Gordon played against all the top lines and players in the WHL and was one of Swift Current’s most consistent performers, so it’s no wonder NHL Central Scouting placed him No. 61 among North American skaters eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft in its final rankings.
A key facet to Gordon's development was his decision to attend EDGE School in Calgary, a private hockey academy that focusses on developing character, academic growth and athletic ability in its students.
"What we're trying to create here are leaders, because not all of these kids are going to be hockey players," said Tyler Dias, coach of boys prep hockey at EDGE School. "We're trying to create good business people, good husbands, and good dads … it's about character more than anything else."
"The doctor said it was like a car-accident break. He had never seen it as a hockey injury before. I'm not quite sure how I managed to do it, but I did. It was the worst pain I've experienced."
-- Coda Gordon
Gordon began with EDGE in grade six, when he attended hockey skills classes and played for various competitive teams affiliated with the school. The tight-knit community at EDGE helped Gordon persevere through his broken leg saga as well as a few other injuries he sustained in his minor-hockey career. His group of peers, which include fellow 2012 NHL Draft prospect Mathew Dumba, also helped push him to reach his potential on the ice. At EDGE he continued to develop his hockey IQ as well as a sense of defensive responsibility. His perseverance paid off and he earned the confidence of his coaches in grade 10.
"He started feeling better about his game," Dias said. "He went through some tough times in bantam and peewee, but he became a man and he became a lot more confident in his hockey and his ability. His game IQ was always off the charts, but he just started feeling really comfortable with putting it all together."
Gordon's years of dedication to the game showed as he transitioned into the WHL this season and stepped into a top-six forward role with the Broncos.
"[Gordon] is very effective from the blue line to the net," Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan said. "He has very good hockey sense and good puck protection. He doesn't have breakaway speed, but he finds open ice to be effective."
Gordon's skating is the one area he admits he would like to improve, and he is working with his trainer to increase his foot speed. However, Lamb doesn't think it's an issue that will hold Gordon back.
"He's one of those guys who with his skating is like Dave Andreychuk," Lamb said. "He's not as big, but I'll tell you what, he's really smart, and when he gets in those areas he can really score. He's a very quiet, smart kid that has a lot of natural talent. So he is going to be a good hockey player and he's got the right drive and the right attitude to take him to that next level."