Hockey can sometimes be a game of routine, with everything from pre-game meals and skates to post game workouts planned down to the minute.
Winnipeg Jets prospect Jimmy Lodge’s routine changed on November 21, 2014.
Up until that point, Lodge had played all of his major junior hockey with the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League. But on November 21st, he became a member of the Mississauga Steelheads, as part of a trade that sent two players and three picks back to Saginaw. The old routines were gone, but Lodge has adjusted.
“It’s been going well,” the 19-year-old Lodge said during a post-practice interview. “From a personal standpoint, I was playing a good amount in Saginaw, but they’re playing me more here. Using me in the penalty kill, which I’ve never been used before. I’m obviously still playing power play and 5-on-5 minutes, but also 6-on-5, and more ice time.”
On the score sheet, the trade seems to have paid dividends for both Lodge and the Steelheads. The 2013 3rd round draft choice of the Winnipeg Jets has averaged more than a point per game since coming over to Mississauga. But his junior career hasn’t always been so smooth. Injuries were a problem during his third season with Saginaw, though he still managed 46 points in 59 games. Statistically, his best season was 2012-2013, when he put up 67 points in 64 games, up from 12 points in his rookie season. He feels his game keeps improving with every season.
“I definitely noticed myself grow as a player. I’m better from experience,” Lodge said. “I just know where to go better in the defensive zone than I was a couple years ago. I’m definitely a stronger and faster player than I was when I was 15 or 16. That just came from playing and practicing hard.”
This will be Lodge’s final season of eligibility in major junior hockey, and with that in mind, Lodge has been able to reflect on a few memories. He started playing the game in his hometown of Westchester, Pennsylvania on a pond with his father. From there he moved on to house league, single A, triple A, then finally, the OHL.
“The OHL, that was my first time getting drafted into anything,” Lodge said. “It was a big day for my hockey career. I was looking forward to it. It was a pretty cool experience to get drafted to an OHL team then play for them the next season. I was excited.”
Lodge went on to say that next season was one of the biggest jumps he’s had in his career. But the experiences he had during that growth stage help him lead the young Mississauga team he now plays for.
“We’re a bottom team in the East, so we’re always the underdog playing games, which is good,” Lodge said of his Steelheads. “We’re always playing hard. Kind of the same thing in Saginaw this year, we were kind of a young team. It’s good though, I’m kind of the older guy so they look up to me and I try to lead them.”
Lodge’s leadership, two-way style of play, and point production certainly caught the eye of the Winnipeg Jets scouting staff. Lodge had the full support of his family at the 2013 NHL Draft in Newark, NJ as well. The drive from there to his hometown of Westchester is less than 115 miles.
“It was a really cool experience. It was way bigger than the OHL draft. Every team was there and just to be picked by the Jets was an honour,” Lodge said. “I heard my name called and I was just really happy and excited to be selected by an NHL team. Even for Winnipeg, they had just come back into the league and how much respect they had as an organization and what kind of fan base they had. I was excited for that, not only to be selected to the NHL, but for the team that chose me.”
Since the draft, Lodge has participated in two Winnipeg Jets development camps at MTS Iceplex, and has worn the team’s jersey at the Young Stars Classic in Penticton, British Columbia with the rest of the Winnipeg prospects. Those events gave him a taste of where is hockey career could take him. That is what fuels Lodge to keep working, to get his game to the next level.
“Definitely my goal is to earn a contract with the Jets and continue my career forward with them,” said Lodge, who then shifted his focus to the present. “And help my team right now get into the playoffs and have a strong run to the end of the season, and do well and hopefully have a good run in the playoffs.”