“It is among the toughest news a player — especially a top prospect — can hear and it came at the worst possible time.
But the decision Manitoba Moose head coach Scott Arniel made to sit Cody Hodgson down as a healthy scratch on Sunday has already paid off in the short-term and it will also have long-term benefits as well.
Hodgson is expected to have a bright future in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks, the team that drafted him with the 10th overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
After an outstanding hockey season that saw him named the Canadian Hockey League’s player of the year, Hodgson joined the Moose when the Brampton Battalion were eliminated in the Ontario Hockey League final by the eventual Memorial Cup-champion Windsor Spitfires.
Hodgson notched a goal and an assist in his first two pro games, showing immediately that he had the smarts and skills to be an impact player.
However, his play tailed off and he’d only managed two assists in the next eight games.
Arniel took a calculated gamble that served two purposes: the first was that he gave Hodgson an extra two days off to recover and find his legs.
The second, and most important, was that Hodgson can’t get by on being a highly touted prospect alone.
Ice time in the American Hockey League and especially at the NHL-level must be earned.
That’s a valuable lesson Hodgson will take into his second NHL training camp with the Canucks in the fall.
Hodgson’s maturity was shining through and that was evident again after coming back to score an important goal as the Moose kept their season alive with a 3-2 victory over the Hershey Bears in Game 5 of the Calder Cup final.
“That was a good feeling obviously. It was a great play all around. It was a good team effort and I just capped it off,” said Hodgson. “I’m here to help in any way that I can and in any capacity
“I felt I’ve done well here and we did well (in Game 5). That’s the biggest thing when you get back in the lineup, you want to help the team win.
With an injury to Mark Cullen, Hodgson not only returned to the lineup after the one-game absence, he was back at his position of choice: centre.
While he went out of his way to say he could play anywhere and had been used more on the right wing than centre, Hodgson was more comfortable in the middle on a line with Ray Sawada and Jason Jaffray.
“I’ll play any position they want me to play, but I feel a little more comfortable at centre,” said Hodgson, noting he slept better before Game 5. “Right since Day 1, the guys have made me feel like a part of the team. I want (to win the Calder Cup) as much as anyone else here.”
Moose goalie Cory Schneider also appreciated the way Hodgson bounced back from a difficult situation to deal with as a young player.
“It’s great,” said Schneider. “It’s a process, I’ve always said. This kid has played six rounds of playoffs, plus the world junior, and I don’t care what level you’re at, six rounds of playoffs is a lot of hockey. He’s been all over the place.
“He’s a hard-working, smart kid and he really came back and responded with a good game and a big goal for us.”
Arniel also liked the way Hodgson reacted to the benching.
“He looked like he didn’t have his legs in Game 3, but he stepped up and I thought he was a lot better,” said Arniel. “He had a bigger role obviously, with Cullen being out. You know what, he scored a heck of a goal.”