Still in his rookie year, Cody Hodgson didn't have as much trouble remembering stories of growing up playing hockey in Haliburton to Markham as he made his way to Vancouver.
Growing up as the second oldest of four children, Hodgson looked up to his older brother and followed in his footsteps to play hockey, although as he tells you, it was something he wouldn't escape in his town of 16,000. The friday night lights shined at the local rink and he relished in every moment of that.
Drafted in the first round, 10th overall by the Canucks in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Hodgson has been in the spotlight ever since. As a result, his path to the NHL, to this memorable rookie year, hasn't been a secret but battling through injuries and an unstoppable determination, he's making his dream come true and he tells us in his own words.
Hodgson shares his tales from his journey to the NHL.
How old were you when you got your first pair of skates?
Two because I know I started skating on the pond behind my house when I was two. They were my older brother, Clayton’s hand-me-downs.
I remember watching videos of us skating around and it was pretty funny to see us skating around in the huge snowsuits - falling down and then getting back up again; my brother chasing me - it was fun.
How did get into hockey?
I got into hockey basically because of my brother was in hockey – whatever he did, I wanted to do. But we were a pretty hockey crazy house. We knew everything about the NHL and watched a lot of hockey.
Before we got our mini sticks, we used our dad’s wood hockey sticks (cut down to size) in our living room. The first time we played when I was about five years old, my brother took a slapshot and his follow-through hit me and split open my chin. So even now when I get hit really hard in my chin, it splits open still. I had to go to the hospital to get stitches.
Looking back now, we probably shouldn’t have had real hockey sticks.
What was your first hockey team?
My first team was the Haliburton Huskies when I was four years old.
Looking back on it now, I never realized I used to use such a big stick. I remember the stick was like holding on to a piece of lumber because I always used the senior sticks so it looks kind of funny in my pictures.
I think I ended up doing that because I just used whatever my dad used so I would just cut it down and use that.
What was hockey like in your hometown?
Hockey was the main part of Haliburton then and it is still like that today. Everybody there was passionate about it, everybody watches it, talks about it – there was no escaping it. It says a lot about the town when the rink is the centre of the community there.
We get a lot of support from Haliburton and I owe a lot to that town. My whole family’s from there as well, my mom and dad and both their parents and so on. We still have cottage that I go to in the summer out there. When I got hurt, everyone was behind me and supporting me and it was nice to have that.
When I moved to Markham, it was the same thing. I was fortunate enough to play on some really good teams in Markham with some guys who are now in the NHL (Steven Stamkos, Michael del Zotto, Cameron Gaunce) from the time I was eight years old. We had thousands of people coming to our games at 10 or 11 years old so that was pretty cool. It’s pretty cool to be that age and literally hundreds of people that you didn’t even know come watch games.
We never would’ve imagined that we would grow up playing together and get into the NHL together. We all lived right around each other, played and practiced, we didn’t really think about it. Even the guys in the area that we played against like [Alex] Pietrangelo, [John] Tavares, [Sam] Gagner. We played around those guys and you know they’re good but we had no idea compared to the rest of the world what it really meant at the time.
What role did your family have in your career?
They really helped me. They pretty much drove me around Ontario and are always there for me to be my support system.
My grandma tries to make it to as many games as possible. She always loves watching us play and she still stays up late on the East coast to watch. She loves it and she’s my biggest fan. We got her hooked up to the computer so sometimes she’ll write to me after games.
What is your proudest hockey moment so far?
I think just making the NHL is an accomplishment enough, scoring a goal is up there, anytime you win a championship though like the World Juniors is another highlight.
Growing up here, the goal is always to play in the NHL and it’s pretty cool when you realize that.
Winning the World Juniors in 2009 was amazing. It was an experience I’ll never forget for so many reasons. Being in Ottawa, the capital, I had all my family there because it’s close enough to Toronto that they were all there at the games and it made it that much more special because they helped get me where I am.
The medal is now just hanging up with the other medals that I’ve ever gotten in minor hockey. I think the gold medal is on basically a coat hanger-type thing.
Who was your hockey hero growing up?
Steve Yzerman. I always loved the way he played – he always had so much enthusiasm and passion. He’s incredibly skilled and the way he was on and off the ice. I’ve had the opportunity to meet him now a few times and it was a real honour to meet him. He’s just a genuine, nice person and an incredible hockey player. The coolest part was just that he knew who I was when I was in junior.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Work hard and have fun, from my dad.
What advice would you give to someone aspiring to get into the NHL?
Enjoy playing the game and have fun – that’s what the game is for.
What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome to get to this point?
Injuries, probably. The worst part wasn’t necessarily the injury, it was just not knowing and not knowing when I could play again. That really wears on you but that’s when having a good support system helps and my family was always there for me.
There were lots of moments [of doubt]. There were moments where I thought I wouldn’t be able to play. I love the game and I love being on the ice so that was the major reason why I stayed motivated. Being around the Brampton Battalion really helped, the coach there was behind me and all the players. I still went to the rink to rehab to get better so just being around them created motivation to get back.
Hopefully everything’s all good now [knocks on wood] and that’s behind me now and it’ll help me with the rest of my career.
Do you ever still get the feeling like this is unbelievable that you've made it here?
Yes, all the time.
Growing up, you watch TV and you wish you were one of the guys playing on the ice, playing with and against some of the best players in the world is a dream come true.
One thing that stands out is the all-star game. It was pretty cool being on the ice with all these guys I grew up idolizing. It kind of hit me there.
Talking with Jarome Iginla was a highlight of the weekend. He came and talked to all of the young guys and it wasn’t really what he said but just that he took the time to come and say hi.