Given what Cody Hodgson means to both the present and the future of the Vancouver Canucks, there was a good deal of talk and thought this summer put towards turning around the rough start this terrific NHL prospect has experienced so far.
The Canucks coaches and management have held several conversations with the Hodgson camp — which now includes his personal coach Claude Lemieux, if you can call him that — and whether or not the club agrees 100 per cent with this new initiative and all it might one day involve, it certainly has the player stoked and ready to try to have his best training camp ever.
“I am really excited to be completely healthy again, strong and really looking forward to camp,” said Hodgson, who will come into town right after Labour Day.
“It's been the best summer in a long time for me and I'm coming in as ready as I can be to help regardless of the roster, what positions are open or not or what the coach is thinking. It's his job to make those decisions and my job to be the best player I can be no matter where I'm used.”
Hodgson said those words like he truly meant them.
Whether this personal-coach approach is a one-off or an idea that may catch on with a lot of young players around the league remains to be seen, but there's no question it has really given Hodgson a mental lift, which is one of the areas he and Lemieux have been working on.
“I've been through a lot of different situations in my career and I think I'm going to be able to help the players I work with both on and off the ice with both mental and physical preparation,” says Lemieux, who now lives in Toronto, given his own son is an aspiring hockey player.
“I remember a situation in New Jersey about two months into the season I was at rock bottom and thinking 'I need to get out of here, I want a different start in a new organization.' But Lou Lamoriello [Devils GM] and I talked and he expressed faith in me, and a few months later I was the MVP of the playoffs. A fresh start in another city wasn't what I needed at all. I needed to make some adjustments in my attitude and look at the team around me differently.
“Vancouver is one of the best organizations in the game; why would you want to go to another team? You have to look at your surroundings in the right way and I think Cody's definitely doing that.”
Lemieux is involved with a company called 4Star which works with and represents athletes, and they've established a working arrangement with Hodgson's agent, Ritch Winter's Sports Corporation, to help their hockey clients. Hodgson is one of the higher-profile players to have this type of help.
“We've had a number of discussions with the coaches and management in Vancouver and we expect to talk from time to time,” said Lemieux, who is really looking forward to the new role as a substitute for playing. “Being able to help another player, to me it's the next best thing to playing yourself and that's something I can't do anymore.”
“He's helped me with quite a few things,” says Hodgson. “We've worked on mental preparation, footwork, shooting and places to shoot and different ways of scoring. It's been really interesting.”
In many ways this makes a lot of sense for the coaches. For instance, on just a straight personal experiential level, what can Alain Vigneault and Rick Bowness, both career defencemen, tell a young forward about the game? They can teach him a lot about what they expect and explain the reasoning of their decisions, but helping 25 different guys in individual areas where they would like to improve is a tall order. Teammates are a help, of course, and the skills coach the Canucks introduced last year was another great step. But it would seem a personal coach can do nothing but help if he isn't too overbearing or interfering. Why should goalies be the only players with an individual or personal coach?
How Hodgson plays from here on in isn't going to be the ultimate test of the personal-coach concept in the NHL, of course, but it may be fun to examine the effects in this one situation at least.
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