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Hodgson, Kassian ready to face former teams

by Kevin Woodley
Cody Hodgson isn’t quite sure how to feel about returning to the city he was traded from just five days earlier or suiting up against guys he called teammates when the week began.

The 22-year-old hasn’t had much time to process being a key part of a four-player deal that sent him from Vancouver to Buffalo at Monday's  trade deadline, with 2009 first-round draft pick Zack Kassian, Buffalo's top prospect, headed the other way.

Hodgson hasn’t totally wrapped his head around coming "home" to play Saturday night against an organization that picked him 10th overall in 2008 and helped him develop into an NHL Rookie of the Year candidate.


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"It's a different feel," Hodgson said Friday during a media session at the Sabres’ hotel. "It feels weird to be like a guest at home."

Canucks fans aren’t sure how to feel about Hodgson’s return -- or his departure. He’s become a divisive figure in the city he was traded from, the No. 1 topic on sports talk radio programs ever since the shocking trade sent him and surplus defenseman Alexander Sulzer to the Sabres in exchange for Kassian’s promise as a power forward, and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani’s potential as puck-mover.

Since then Hodgson has been either championed as a franchise pivot and potential captain Vancouver will long rue losing, or ripped as a selfish malcontent more concerned with ice time that winning. The rumblings that he asked for a trade have hardly been quieted by Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis’ refusal to address them and a bizarre series of now-deleted tweets from Hodgson’s agent, Ritch Winter, that seemed to at least indicate a request for more playing time.

Hodgson, who amassed his 16 goals and 33 points while playing less than 13 minutes a game, denied he’d requested a trade.

"I was as shocked as anybody," Hodgson said.

As for what to expect from the fans when he skates onto the ice at Rogers Arena, Hodgson isn't as sure. Given how hard it's been for the Canucks faithful to find rational middle ground on his trade – stuck behind top centers Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler, Hodgson was never going to get the chance to play the top-six role his talent warrants, so he was dealt for the big winger the franchise has lacked since Todd Bertuzzi – no one knows.

"I'm not too sure what the fans say, but they're really passionate and they were always supportive," said Hodgson, who is pointless but plus-2 (and seeing more ice time) in two shutout wins that have Buffalo within four points of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Kassian says he can already feel that support in Vancouver, which is a good thing since the pro-Hodgson contingent may see anything short of the Hall of Fame as a failure. That the burly 21-year-old has started as a limited-minutes fourth-liner with the Canucks only added to their disdain for the deal, but the force of the nine hits he’s thrown in two games so far should soften their stance against the deal.

Vancouver hopes it also softens up opposing defensemen. As for whether he’ll throw his 220 pounds at guys he played alongside last week, Kassian said not to expect "anything out of the ordinary."

"I have to play hard every game to be effective. I know a lot of guys over there, some good friendships, and it's going to be a lot of fun."

Zack Kassian
Right Wing - VAN
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 7
SOG: 41 | +/-: -1
Despite questions in Buffalo about whether he used his physical presence aggressively enough in this, his first, professional season, Kassian, who was picked 13th in 2009, said he had nothing to prove to the team that traded him away. He admits that he was sour about being dealt, but that didn't last long. One look at – or up – the NHL standings changed Kassian’s mood in a hurry.

"You quickly turn the page once you come to this city and see the fans and the city and where they are in the standings and the chance they have in the playoffs," he said of the NHL-leading Canucks. "Your mind quickly forgets about Buffalo and zones into here."

The minds of those watching line Saturday night may not all agree.

Hodgson is sure to occupy a few, even if his is now elsewhere.

"I don't look back at anything that's happened here," Hodgson said when asked about a career that was delayed by a back injury while training with Canucks staff, sparking talk of a rift as he sought out other fitness help and medical advice. "I'm happy for my time here. I'm really grateful that they drafted me and gave me the opportunity to play. They helped me develop into the player that I am today. So I have nothing but good things to say about the organization."

Even if his departure from it still raises questions.

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