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Boston Sports Museum honors former Bruin Hodge

by Bob Snow
BOSTON - It's hard to believe that Ken Hodge turned 65 on Thursday. But while June 24, 1944, marks the birth of the former Boston right wing, May 15, 1967, marked the rebirth of the Bruins -- a process in which Hodge was intimately involved.

That's the day when one of the biggest trades in NHL history took place. GM Hap Emms and Assistant GM Milt Schmidt pulled one major trigger, sending defenseman Gilles Marotte, center Pit Martin and goalie Jack Norris to the Blackhawks for centers Phil Esposito and Fred Stanfield -- and Hodge, then an unproven 22-year-old.

Hodge, who made a living sending conveyor-belt passes from the right corner to Esposito in the slot to help the Bruins win Stanley Cups in 1970 and 1972, was honored on Wednesday night with several other New England sports icons by the Boston Sports Museum at its eighth annual "The Tradition" at TD Banknorth Garden, where the museum is also housed. Hodge was given the 2009 Hockey Legacy Award.

"This award tonight is a great gift for my 65th birthday," Hodge said. 

Were it not for the trade, Hodge's future -- and that of the Bruins -- would have been vastly different.

"Hap and I went around to all the clubs in the League after the season was over," said Schmidt, who was named GM shortly after the trade. "We knew we had to make a deal, but nobody was trading. Then the day before the [trade] deadline, [Blackhawks GM] Tommy Ivan called and said, 'Let's make a deal.'

"We came up with a lot of names, but the big guy they wanted was Marotte. We knew how good Espo was, and I knew what a great skater Stanfield was -- he worked at my summer hockey schools. We wanted three men -- and if I was going to give three, we were going to get three.

"Hodge never got the support or recognition he should have there. Espo was a great hockey player, but let's not kid ourselves -- how was he going to get all those goals unless somebody was feeding him? Hodgie and Cash (Wayne Cashman) were big and strong and did a pretty good job at that."

Esposito was taken care of by Cashman from the left side and Hodge from the right, forming one of the great lines in NHL history. The three were at their best in 1970-71, when Esposito set an NHL record (since broken) with 76 goals and 76 assists for 152 total points. Esposito also ranks No. 1 in all three scoring categories on Causeway Street with 459 goals and 553 assists for 1,012 points in just 625 games.

Along with Bobby Orr on defense, Espo, Cash, Hodgie, Derek "Turk" Sanderson, Gerry "Cheesie" Cheevers and the rest of the Big Bad Bruins became a powerhouse in the early 70s that not only brought two Cups to Boston, but also established hockey as the local backyard sport.

"It's tough to talk about eras," said Hodge, looking as fit and erudite as his last shift some 30 years ago. "Enough said that we had some great teams and I played with the greatest hockey player in the world in Bobby Orr. It's great here in Boston that the names from those teams are still household ones." 

In his nine seasons in Boston, Hodge amassed 289 goals and 365 assists for 674 points in 652 games -- third in Bruins history in goals and assists for a right wing and second in points. He put up two 100-point seasons with 105 in both '70-71 and '73-74. Hodge had 17 points in the Cup-winning playoffs in 1970 and '72.

"Enough said that we had some great teams and I played with the greatest hockey player in the world in Bobby Orr. It's great here in Boston that the names from those teams are still household ones."
-- Ken Hodge

"We used to train in London, Ontario," said Hodge, an Ontario native and son of an RAF officer during World War II -- he was born in Birmingham, England. "Once the team began to come together, especially after trading for Eddie Shack, it made everybody feel looser. We had a great blend of veterans and youth.

"The lines that [coach] Harry Sinden put together were just great. I think the unselfishness of the three of us [on our line] was the key. We knew that Phil was a goal scorer and whether he got all the press or whatever, that didn't bother us. We were just happy to contribute."

Hodge's contributions also put him well above his signature No. 8 in several other categories. He's the seventh-leading scorer in team history and ranks sixth in goals. Among right wings who've played in Boston, he's No. 3 in goals behind Rick Middleton and Cam Neely, and third in assists behind Middleton and Terry O'Reilly. Hodge is the only Bruin right wing ever to be named an NHL First-Team All-Star -- he did it twice, in 1970-71 and '73-74.

Ironically, he was traded to the New York Rangers on May 26, 1976, for Middleton -- who would go on to become the Bruins' all-time leader in goals, assists and points among right wings.

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