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Healthy Hodgson finally back among his All-Star peers

by Kevin Woodley
Cody Hodgson looks forward to catching up with old friends at the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game.

Catching up to them remains a work in progress for the Canucks' rookie.

Hodgson grew up playing alongside fellow All-Stars like Steven Stamkos and John Tavares, and knows others like Jamie Benn and Jordan Eberle well from their time on Canada's World Junior Championship teams. He surpassed several on the junior stage, even winning Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year ahead of Tavares just before Tavares was selected with the No. 1 pick by the New York Islanders in 2009, only to fall behind when a back injury threatened his career.

Now Hodgson is back alongside some of those old friends in Ottawa, though his status as a rookie invite somehow seems to put him behind them as "regular" All-Stars. Not that the 21-year-old Hodgson is worried about it, because as much as the back injury set back his development by a full year, it also gave him perspective.

Cody Hodgson
Center - VAN
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 16 | PTS: 29
SOG: 88 | +/-: 7
"I'm just happy to play hockey again and everything beyond that is a bonus," said Hodgson, who also lists young NHL standouts Matt Duchene, Jeff Skinner, Michael Del Zotto, Alex Pietrangelo and P.K. Subban among his fellow rink rats and teammates growing up in Ontario. "Just being at the All-Star Game, having watched it as a kid, is amazing. And to see guys I played with growing up that are now throughout the League, you don't get a chance to talk too much.

"There's a bunch of them, and it's nice to catch up to some of those guys."

Seeing those old friends succeed in the NHL confirmed to Hodgson, who was selected by the Canucks with the 10th pick of the 2008 Entry Draft, that he could, too -- if he was healthy again. Now, after losing nearly an entire season two years ago, Hodgson looks like he soon may catch up to them on the ice, as well.

Playing mostly as the Canucks' third-line center and as a key part of their second power-play unit, Hodgson leads the team in January scoring with 9 points, has 7 goals and 7 assists in his last 17 games. He went into the All-Star break with his first two-goal NHL game, including the winner, against San Jose on Saturday, and then scored the clincher in the fifth round of a shootout win against Edmonton on Tuesday.

Hodgson entered the break fourth in rookie scoring this season with 29 points in 49 games, just six behind NHL leader Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers. And while Nugent-Hopkins, out since Jan. 2 with a shoulder injury, has played 11 fewer games, Hodgson actually has played more than 35 fewer minutes.


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For Nugent-Hopkins, that's two games. For Hodgson, it's closer to three. And that discrepancy is true for all three rookies currently ahead of Hodgson in scoring.

Hodgson is averaging 12:42 of ice time per game, less than Nugent Hopkins (35 points in 17:19 of ice time), New Jersey's Adam Henrique (34 points in 18:24), and Philadelphia's Matt Read (31 points in 17:28). It's part of being stuck behind past Art Ross and Hart Trophy winner Henrik Sedin and reigning Selke Trophy winner Ryan Kesler on the depth chart at center.

It's also led to some calls -- mostly to sports-talk radio shows -- for more ice time for Hodgson, or even bumping Kesler to the wing in order to get top-six minutes for Hodgson at even-strength. All of that falls on deaf ears at Hodgson's locker-room stall. He learned during his injury, which included speculation about a rift with management after he out sought second medical opinions and changed trainers, not to get too caught up in what others were saying.

"I really don't like looking back at that," he said. "That's when your family comes into play. They really supported me at those times and helped me get through it and realize there is more than just hockey to life. And regardless of what happens, just enjoy the time you have when you are able to play."

Things like how much or with who don't mean as much when you've experienced moments wondering if you'd ever be the same player -- or play at all -- again.

"It doesn't matter where, or how much," Hodgson said. "I really enjoy every day, just happy to be on the ice and skate and play hockey and do what I love. I don't mean to say I took it for granted before, but sometimes you don't appreciate something when you have it all the time."

Hodgson repeats his "happy to be here" line more than a dozen times during in an extended interview, usually accompanied by a permanent grin. He gives off a naive, deer-in-the-headlights joy about going to the All Star Game, and while this doesn't escape the playful jabs of teammates, it is somehow more sincere because of the perspective he got from an injury that threatened to derail his NHL career before it started.

"He's a guy that is extremely happy all the time, but he takes more heat for being naïve," Kesler said with a smile of his own. "But guys respect his game and what he brings to this team. He is happy to be here, but he's driven, he wants to get better every day and he's one of the hardest working guys in practice. Obviously he came in with a lot of high expectations and he's starting to meet them."

That includes showing a knack for playing his best in the biggest moments, from leading the 2009 World Junior Championship in scoring with 16 points in six games -- and Canada to gold as an alternate captain -- to blasting the game-winner past Tim Thomas, adding an assist and being named the game's first star in the Canucks' much-hyped Stanley Cup Final rematch with Boston on Jan. 7.

Maybe enjoying every moment makes it easier to succeed in the biggest ones.

"It's just a blessing to be able to play hockey for your life, your career, your profession," Hodgson said. "It's pretty cool to wake up every day and go to the rink. Not everybody gets a chance to do this, and that's a pretty cool outlook."
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