Hodgson putting in the work with Amerks
by Dave Ricci/Correspondent
BUFFALO, N.Y. — The rink was familiar. The locker room was familiar. But the uniform … well, that was a different story.
“It’s nice to be back in the arena, and it’s good to be playing regardless,” said Cody Hodgson one morning late last month, as the AHL’s Rochester Americans prepared to host the Hamilton Bulldogs in the First Niagara Center, home of the idle Buffalo Sabres. “Being in Rochester is a pretty good situation because I’m able to play.”
As the NHL labor war rages into November, the 22-year-old Hodgson is among the handful of young players that have the chops to be playing with the Sabres but will ply their trade in the AHL for the foreseeable future.
While wearing Amerks’ red, white and blue wasn’t exactly how Hodgson drew up the 2012-13 season, he knows he is very fortunate to be playing competitive hockey because many of his friends are sitting at home hoping for the phone to ring.
“You can only play shinny for so long,” Hodgson said with a grin.
“I know it’s tough for the guys right now,” he continued. “There’s a few guys out skating and trying to put games together. Being able to be in top competition really helps.”
A student of the game, Hodgson knows full well that because of the influx of NHL-caliber talent, the AHL is at its peak. And he knows that playing for the Amerks will benefit him once the NHL reopens its doors.
“It’s definitely a really skilled league right now,” Hodgson said. “Look at the power plays around the league; with so many good players you can’t take penalties, that’s for sure. Some of the top-end guys are some of your better players in the NHL, too.
“It’s still a pretty good league and competitive, and it’s nice to be still in that competitive mind frame.”
Though Hodgson’s shown he has the talent and ability to succeed in the NHL, Amerks coach Ron Rolston believes his young centerman will use this time to shore up parts of his games that he might not normally get to work on in Buffalo.
“He’s a young, talented player and I think he’s using this opportunity right now as a developmental opportunity,” said Rolston, “and maybe to be in different situations that maybe he wouldn’t even be in, in Buffalo — taking key draws in big situations for us. ... I think for him, he’s got the right mindset, and he wants to continue to grow as a player and he’s really used his time so far in a positive way.”
Hodgson’s last stint in the AHL was with Manitoba during the 2010-11 season, when he scored 30 points in 52 games with the Moose.
Amerks goalie David Leggio (Williamsville, N.Y.) said that having a guy with Hodgson’s résumé on the roster is a huge plus that benefits the entire team.
“He seems like he’s enjoying it,” Leggio said. “It’s too bad, because obviously a guy like that would be making 10 times the amount as he’s making in the AHL, or more. I don’t think that he thinks about it like that. He comes here and he takes care of business. He handles himself like a professional, sets a great example for the other guys. He brings himself ready to play every day.”
Originally taken by Vancouver with the Canucks’ first pick (10th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Hodgson found himself wearing Sabres blue and gold after Buffalo shipped Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani to the Canucks for Hodgson and defenseman Alexander Sulzer on Feb. 27.
Hodgson, who was seen as a person who could fill a role as a playmaking center, posted 3-5-8 totals in 20 games with Buffalo. He logged a total of 41 points (19-22-41) in 83 combined games with Buffalo and Vancouver last season.
Hodgson said he didn’t spend the summer fretting over the labor talks. Instead of wringing his hands and being consumed with the thought of a lockout stalling his game at the NHL level, he said he kept himself focused on the things he could control.
“I just prepared over the summer like we were going to start the NHL on time,” he said. “So as soon as the season starts I’ll be ready. This way I’m still able to keep playing and, hopefully, that will translate once the NHL does start playing games.”
Hodgson has indeed been a force for the Amerks, collecting a league-leading seven assist in his first six games of the season. As fate would have it, he would score his first goal of the season in Buffalo when he netted the game-winner in the Amerks’ 3-1 win over Hamilton.
But while Hodgson’s impact is certainly felt on the stat sheet, Rolston said that the work ethic and positive tone that Hodgson sets in the room and on the ice is perhaps even more valuable.
“One of the biggest things for our young players is being consistent, coming to the rink every day and building their professionalism if they want to play at the National Hockey League level,” Rolston said. “And Cody is one of those players that every single day, you know what you’re going to get. He’s consistent. He works extremely hard. He makes the other players that are around him better. So he’s been a great influence in our locker room.”
While it goes without saying everyone wants the lockout to be resolved as quickly as possible, Hodgson is making the most of his time on the ice.
“Obviously, everyone wants the NHL to be back on and playing,” he said, “but right now this is the best hockey in North America.”
This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of New York Hockey Journal.