Thankfully for Team Canada, the 18-year-old centre, Vancouver’s top pick in last June’s NHL entry draft, elected to take – and take to heart – a little piece of the Canucks with him in the form of advice from general manager Mike Gillis.
“Obviously, I was a little disappointed originally at being sent back, but talking with them – I had a great meeting with Mike Gillis at the end,” said Hodgson from Ottawa, who scored the game-winning goal against the US in a 7-4 win Wednesday
at the world junior championship. “He said just have a great year this year, do well in the OHL and have fun at this tournament. We’ve got a great team in Brantford and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Indeed, like a good soldier, Hodgson has followed those instructions to a T, first with the Battalion and now with Canada’s finest, where he’s earning rave reviews as the team drives to equal its own record with a fifth straight world junior title.
Hodgson assited on a pair of John Tavares goals in the first period that helped Canada rally from a three-goal deficit in their final preliminary game of the tournament, then scored the winning goal on a third period power play. The goal, Hodgson's third of the tournament, gave him 12 points and automatically vaulted Canada into the semi-finals.
Cody’s a very dependable player. He’s one of those kids that does things right - Team Canada coach, Pat Quinn
“Cody’s a very dependable player. He’s one of those kids that does things right,” says Canada’s coach and former Canucks president, coach and GM Pat Quinn. “He prides himself on execution, he prides himself on position, he’s a good thinker and he’s been a strong player for us.”
After a summer spent working on his game with Canucks director of player development Dave Gagner in London, Ont., Hodgson impressed so much in training camp and the NHL pre-season that he nearly made Vancouver’s roster on his first crack at the pros.
He signed an entry-level contract with the club on the eve of the regular season, but, with the Canucks still seeing a need for improvement in some areas, the youngster was sent back to junior.
With Canada, the six-foot, 185-pound native of Markham, Ont., has shown all the tools that made the Canucks select him with the No. 10 pick.
Coming off a season in which the OHL’s coaches voted him the Eastern Conference’s smartest player in their year-end poll, he’s been used on the power play and killing penalties.
He can often be found on the highlights of Canada’s goals creating traffic in front of the net and his offensive ability has made him one of the tournament’s leading scorers through the preliminary round.
He’s spent much of his time playing on a line with Zach Boychuk of the Western Hockey League’s Lethbridge Hurricanes and Jordan Eberle of the WHL’s Regina Pats and the trio has been key to Canada’s success so far.
“He’s a guy you can use anywhere,” Quinn says.
Gillis praised Hodgson for his leadership abilities when drafting him and Quinn thought so much of those skills that he named Hodgson one of Canada’s alternate captains.
“He’s been a leader at every level he’s played at, so I wouldn’t expect anything less from him,” says Canada defenceman P.K. Subban, who, during the OHL season, is on the opposite side of the puck against Hodgson with the Belleville Bulls.
“He’s a dominant player, no matter what level he’s been at, and we expect that from him. He’s been great in this tournament and I’m sure he’ll continue to be.”
Last spring, Hodgson captained Canada’s under-18 team, also coached by Quinn, to the world championship in Kazan, Russia, leading the tournament in scoring with 12 points (two goals, 10 assists) in seven games.
That’s where his stock really began to rise ahead of the draft in Ottawa.
“I knew he was a great player, then I played with him at the U-18s and he was phenomenal,” says Team Canada defenceman Ryan Ellis, a member of the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires. “I was on the power play with him and just the things he did on the power play were unbelievable. He moved the puck so well, a great shot.
“I think he had a little bit of time to develop and he’s developed in a big way. He’s come back from that Vancouver camp, he almost made that team, and he came back and he’s probably one of the best players in the OHL right now without a doubt.”
For Hodgson, the leadership ability comes naturally.
“I don’t really try to be a leader, I do what I feel is right, and most of the time guys will follow it. That’s basically my philosophy,” he says.
That lead-by-example attitude has earned him the respect of his fellow Canada teammates.
“He’s just a solid all-around guy and great in the room,” Ellis says. “There’s a reason he’s got a letter on his jersey and he’s just one of those guys you want on your team.”
It’s no coincidence that, shortly after his arrival back in Brampton, the Battalion rattled off an astounding 16-game winning streak. Despite missing the first month of the season, Hodgson, with 20 goals and 22 assists in just 23 games, had still cracked the top 10 among OHL scoring leaders before departing for Canada’s selection camp in mid-December, where the winning, and fun, has continued.
“I really made it a priority this year to try and improve my game in every aspect and just have fun,” Hodgson says. “It’s a great bunch of guys here and we get along well off the ice as well, so it’s been fun so far and I hope it continues.”
Hodgson, who turns 19 in mid-February, would still be eligible to suit up for Canada at the 2010 world juniors in Saskatoon and Regina.
With all due respect to the junior ranks, however, after this tournament and his season with Brampton is over, it’s Vancouver that he has his sights set on.
“That’s the goal, obviously. Right now, I’m just focusing on the tournament, but that’s where I want to be definitely,” he says.