Arizona’s Hodgman makes most of first game
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) Justin Hodgman figures he was in Belarus this time last year, or maybe it was Russia. Perhaps it was someplace else, he’s not sure.
When you’ve had a dot-the-globe career like his, sometimes the when and where get a little fuzzy.
Besides, pinpointing the details of the journey aren’t important now that Hodgman has reached the destination.
And not only did he get to the NHL after playing for nine teams in six minor and European leagues, the 26-year-old made a big splash, scoring a goal in his debut to help the Arizona Coyotes earn a much-needed win.
”I didn’t want to take my jersey off,” Hodgman said after Arizona’s 2-1 overtime victory over Florida Saturday night. ”It’s been a long journey.”
Longer than most, a testament to his determination.
Born in Brampton, Ontario, Hodgman had the same dream as nearly every Canadian kid with a pair of skates: To play in the NHL.
After four seasons of juniors with the Eerie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League, Hodgman signed with the Chicago Blackhawks as an undrafted free agent in 2009 and was later traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Despite his combination of skill and grit, Hodgman never could break into the NHL, building a resume that read like a hockey eye chart: IHL, ECHL, AHL, FHL, KHL.
The final three years of that run were spent overseas, one season in the Finish Liiga (FHL) and two in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).
Sensing his window to the NHL was closing, Hodgman headed back to North American earlier this for what figured to be one last shot.
”There were some tough times for sure, being over there, but I just made the decision that I was going to come back and give it a go,” Hodgman said. ”I figured this might be my last shot with my age getting up there.”
Hodgman signed a two-way contract with the Coyotes during the offseason and had a solid preseason, leading the team in scoring with four goals and five points in five games.
That earned him a spot on Arizona’s initial 23-man roster.
But his journey wasn’t quite complete.
With a glut of forwards already on the roster, Hodgman was a healthy scratch his first two games as an NHL player and was sent down to Portland of the AHL, his seventh different league.
But after a brief stint with the Pirates, Hodgman was called up by the Coyotes on Friday after Dave Moss suffered an upper-body injury against Minnesota the night before.
This time, Hodgman was in the lineup, not watching from a suite in street clothes.
And he made the most of the opportunity.
Charged up by dual national anthems – the Canadian anthem was played to honor victims of the shootings in Ottawa last week – Hodgman had a jump to his step from the first shift, buzzing around the ice. He played a solid two-way game through the first two periods and capped his night perfectly in the third, scoring the tying goal midway through the third period on a one-timer off a feed from Lauri Korpikoski.
”That’s why you play the game, to be an NHL player and score an NHL goal,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. ”And to get one in his first game at his age is pretty special.”
The moment wasn’t lost on Hodgman. Not after everything he’s been through.
The years in the minors, the season in Finland, the treks across Russia – all worth it.
Hodgman had earned this the hard way and the joy was hard to contain, evident by the huge grin still splashed across his face long after his first NHL game had ended.
”It’s been a long journey, but there’ve been longer, guys that have taken a little longer,” Hodgman said. ”But 26, it’s been a while, it’s been a long road, but it was worth it.”