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With Camp Over, Coyotes Turn Attention to Season Opener

by Dave Vest / Arizona Coyotes

GLENDALE – With Training Camp over and the team roster set at the NHL-required 23 players, the Coyotes practiced Sunday with attention turned to the 2014-15 regular season opener on Thursday at home vs. Winnipeg.

"Once you get down to your team, players start to recognize the preparation for Opening Night is the next phase of camp," Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "That's where we are right now."

The Coyotes are off on Monday although they’ll golf together in a team-bonding outing. On Tuesday and Wednesday, they will return to the ice for full practices at Gila River Arena. Those practices will be closed to the public.

Tippett said just because the roster is down to 23 players, the competition for jobs and ice time is not over.

"You have three (extra) players that want to be in the lineup, so there's going to be competition that way," Tippett said. "The thing you have to remember coming out of camp is it's easy to think everybody's gone, but you have the players in Portland that are a phone call away. It's not as if those players are out of the picture by any stretch of the imagination."

He added, "This is the way we'll start. We'll see where it goes."

Center Justin Hodgman is the biggest surprise among the players who are still with the team.

Justin Hodgman. Photo by Getty Images.

Hodgman, who has never played in an NHL game, earned his spot by leading the team in preseason scoring with four goals and one assist in five games.

"Hodgman had a really good camp," Tippett said. "He's a guy who brings a little more skill element to our forward group, so we wanted to keep pursuing that."

Hodgman said he was offered a contract to return to the KHL for a third season but he rejected it because he feels he’s ready to become an NHL regular.

“I decided to give it a shot,” Hodgman said. “I turned down a great offer to go back to Russia to come back here on a two-way contract and just give her a go. I really didn’t know what to expect or what was going to happen, but this was obviously the ultimate goal. And I’m happy to be part of the 23 (players) for now. I’m just going to keep on working.”

Hodgman, 26, has been trying to make an NHL roster for a long time; he has played in the OHL, IHL, ECHL, AHL, in Finland, and most recently in the KHL. Asked if there was anyone, besides a family member, he wanted to thank for their support along the way, Hodgman said Edmonton Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins, his former coach in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies from 2009-11.

"The one man in my career that I give the most credit to is Dallas Eakins," Hodgman said. "He gave me my first shot (by) trading for me when I was in Toledo (ECHL) … and then he helped me get to (play in) Finland when there were no offers here. He’s been the biggest influence in my career and I owe a lot to him."

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