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Hodge, two-time Vezina winner, dies at 82

Six-time Stanley Cup champion goalie played for Canadiens, Seals, Canucks

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

MONTREAL -- Charlie Hodge, a six-time Stanley Cup champion in the 1950s and 60s and a two-time Vezina Trophy-winner with the Montreal Canadiens, died Saturday morning in Vancouver. He was 82.

Ill for some time, Hodge had been a fixture in arenas in and around Vancouver, still demonstrating a keen eye for appraising junior- and bantam-age players after spending decades scouting for three NHL teams.

Between 1954-67, Hodge played 237 regular-season games over nine seasons with the Canadiens. He was claimed in the 1967 expansion draft by the California/Oakland Seals, for whom he would play another 86 games from 1967-70.

Hodge finished his career playing 35 games in 1970-71 for the Vancouver Canucks, who plucked him from the Seals in the 1970 expansion draft.

A native of Montreal suburb Lachine, Hodge toiled for years in the minor pros, playing 529 games for nine teams outside the NHL between 1953-63 while seeing action just 59 times for the Canadiens. 

Forever an emergency substitute for injured or temperamental Montreal star goalie Jacques Plante, Hodge always was shipped back to the minors when Plante recovered.

Plante was dealt to the New York Rangers in a seven-player trade in June 1963, yet it was incoming Lorne "Gump" Worsley who was pegged by coach Toe Blake as the Canadiens starter. But when Worsley was hurt early in 1963-64, Hodge was again summoned from Quebec of the American Hockey League.

Hodge, figuring it was another Montreal pit stop, packed only a shaving kit, pajamas and an extra shirt. But this time, the 5-foot-6, 150-pound goalie stayed for 62 games, edging Chicago Blackhawks legend Glenn Hall by two goals to win the Vezina Trophy with eight shutouts and a 2.26 goals-against average.

"There were times when it was very good," Hodge recalled of that season during a 2008 collectibles show in Montreal. "But let's face it, one of the fellows who deserved a lot of credit for it was (Canadiens defensive forward) Claude Provost. He was a hell of a checker."

Maybe so, but Blake sang his goalie's praises.

"I never saw anyone play goal better than Hodge did in the 1963-64 season," Blake said. "The best of them - Bill Durnan (of the Canadiens), Frank Brimsek (of the Boston Bruins) or Plante - were never better in one year than Hodge was for us."

Hodge would tell you he was a part of three championships, not the six for which he's credited. He'd state, sometimes aggressively, he only merited recognition for the Stanley Cup-winning seasons during which he had played a significant role: 1957-58, 1964-65 and 1965-66, having also shared the Vezina with Worsley that final year.

Still, you'll find Hodge's name on the Stanley Cup six times with the Canadiens and once more with the 1991-92 Pittsburgh Penguins as a scout. It appears four different ways on the trophy's sterling bands: C Hodge, CH Hodge, Charles Hodge and Charlie Hodge.

He was signing "Charlie" at the 2008 collectibles show, as he did only for memorabilia.

"I sign checks a different way and legal documents a way different than that," he said that day. "If anybody copies what I sign today then tries to forge something legal, I can say, 'No, this is not my signature.'

"It's not that I don't trust anybody," he added, laughing. "It's just that I don't trust anybody."

Hodge's time in his hometown ended in 1967 when he was claimed by the Seals, the Canadiens leaving him unprotected in the expansion draft with the promising Rogie Vachon in their system.

It was hardly a picnic tending goal behind the Seals' defense. But Hodge, then 34, enjoyed playing for coach Bert Olmstead, a 1950s Canadiens teammate who shared an intensity ingrained by Montreal.

His favorite game during his three-year Bay Area stay came in November 1967 against the Canadiens and his old friend, Montreal hard-rock forward John Ferguson, a 2-1 home victory.

"John was being a 'smart aleck.' He came by the front of the net and smacked me in the behind, hitting me so hard you could hear it throughout the building. Well, a penalty was called and I started laughing. Blake chewed John out, and I had the satisfaction of beating the best," Hodge recalled in Brad Kurtzberg's 2006 book "Shorthanded: The Untold Story of the Seals."

Olmstead was fired after one season, replaced by Fred Glover. Hodge had never seen eye-to-eye with Glover as teammates in the AHL, and they weren't about to start now.
From playing 58 games and being named Seals' Player of the Year in their inaugural season to playing 14 games in each of the next two seasons and getting bounced down to the minors in 1968-69, Hodge wound up with the expansion Canucks in 1970-71 and he retired after one season.

In 358 NHL games, he was 150-125-61, had 24 shutouts and a 2.70 goals-against average, including a 2.39 GAA in his 16 career playoff games with the Canadiens.

Hodge also is co-owner of an NHL record that will likely never be broken - on Jan. 18, 1967, he and Canadiens' Garry Bauman combined for an NHL All-Star Game shutout. Hodge made 25 saves over the first and third periods, with Bauman stopping 10 in the second in the Canadiens' 3-0 win. It was the first time the game pitted the previous season's Stanley Cup champion against the League's all-stars and was moved to midseason from its traditional season-opening date.

A champion 1950s canoeist while in his 20s, a paddler of nearly Olympic-caliber, Hodge was one of the great characters in the game, a Montrealer who had grown up worshipping Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Turk Broda.

"I hate like hell to say that," Hodge told me, almost under his breath. "That was a no-no. When I realized that at one (Canadiens) training camp, I figured I'd better switch."

Hodge would return to hockey after dabbling in post-retirement real estate, scouting for the Winnipeg Jets then the Pittsburgh Penguins, finally going to work for the Tampa Bay Lightning to beat the bushes for talent in British Columbia, where he'd settled.

Even after he'd left his official work as a scout, Hodge was never happier than in the press boxes and the stands of small B.C. rinks, breathing the crisp air of cold barns while giving a hard look at young players who might be diamonds in the rough.

The tight-knit scouting community in Western Canada has reacted with sadness this weekend, saying they'll miss his company, quick wit and sharp tongue.

"(Hodge) was kind, humble, affable, welcoming and loved to joke around," tweeted Aynsley Scott, a scout and NHL Network radio producer. "Earned respect, gave respect."

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