But given the events of the night before, when Hodgson and his Canadian teammates beat Sweden 5-1 in the gold-medal game of the world junior hockey championship to successfully complete this country’s quest for a record-tying fifth straight title, he could have probably made it back to the Big Smoke on adrenalin alone.
“It’s just incredible,” Hodgson said, still trying to wrap his head – a wonderfully efficient hockey head as he proved throughout the tournament – around the occasion.
“Watching it growing up every year on TSN, every Boxing Day watching it all the way through and seeing all the guys that played in the National Hockey League, growing up and sitting with my family watching it – it’s unbelievable that they were watching me on the ice, I get to play in it, so it’s just a surreal feeling.”
As hard it might be for the Canucks’ top pick in last June’s draft (No. 10 overall) to do so, he can be a believer now.
He could start to when he helped P.K. Subban give Canada the lead just 38 seconds into the game on the power play. Even more so when he scored his own power-play marker 33 seconds into the third to make the score 3-0. If that wasn’t enough to convince himself, then his second goal of the night, into an empty net with 32 seconds to go, absolutely should have settled any doubt.
With a tournament-record crowd of 20,380 at Ottawa’s Scotiabank Place in near-hysterics by the end of it all, the Canadians, which had done all they could to keep their emotions in check in what was the biggest game of their young careers, could finally let it all hang out.
“I just took it all in,” Hodgson said. “The crowd, my family was here and friends, just an unbelievable experience that I’ll never forget.”
Of all the big moments over the past calendar year for the Markham, Ont., native, this one ranks far and away as No. 1, and that’s saying something given what the young centre has achieved – captaining Canada to a gold medal at the under-18 world championship, being selected in the first round of the NHL draft and attending his first training camp with the Canucks – all before his 19th birthday, which comes next month.
“This has got to be the top moment. I was dreaming of this as a kid growing up,” he said.
For me the best all-around player and the tournament MVP was Hodgson... No matter who he was playing against, be it the Americans, Russians, Swedes, he was absolutely terrific. - TSN's Bob McKenzie
For fans of the Canucks, Hodgson’s play in the tournament was a dream.
He and linemates Jordan Eberle of the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats and Zach Boychuk of the Lethbridge Hurricanes were probably Canada’s best forward unit.
Eberle had six goals and seven assists to finish third in the tournament scoring race. He also had what was probably the biggest goal of the competition – they tying marker with 5.4 seconds left in regulation time in the semifinals against Russia that allowed the Canadians to eventually win in shootout to get the gold-medal contest.
Boychuk, who suffered an ankle injury in the thrilling New Year’s Eve victory over the United States, contributed four goals and three assists.
Meanwhile, Hodgson’s three-point performance in the finale pushed him past star teammate John Tavares for the tournament scoring lead with 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in just six games. Tavares wound up with 15 points on eight goals and seven helpers. Not that Hodgson was counting.
“I didn’t even realize it,” he said, with a smile cracking his lips. “Really? That empty-netter, eh? That’s funny.”
For his efforts, he was voted to the tournament all-star team alongside Tavares, who earned most valuable player honours, and Canadian defenceman P.K. Subban of the Ontario Hockey League’s Belleville Bulls.
Oh yeah, Hodgson also got that big gold medallion to take home with him.
“You want to feel it?” he offered, hoisting the clunky bauble from around his neck before sticking it between his teeth, getting the familiar taste of success that he’s watched others do before.
By Tuesday afternoon, the rest of Hodgson’s Canadian teammates were to be on their way.
Scheduled to be on the same flight to Toronto, from where Hodgson will settle back in to his Ontario Hockey League season with the Brampton Battalion, were fellow OHLers Tavares (Oshawa Generals) and Alex Pietrangelo (Niagara IceDogs).
They were to land just after 10 in the morning Eastern time. However, Hodgson admitted it was going to take some time to come down from the ride they’ve been on. Then it would be back to normal life.
At least they’ll still have the memories, and the medals, as a souvenir.
“We’ll probably ride it out for a couple of days,” he said. “But once we get back, I’m sure it’ll be (all) business again.”