Childhood friends share NHL ice in Denver 0
It's a long way from Haliburton.
NHLers Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche and Cody Hodgson of the Vancouver Canucks squared off in Colorado at the Pepsi Center on Wednesday, Nov. 23.
It was the first time the childhood friends, both originally from Haliburton, played each other in several years since they were in minor hockey.
When the two centres shared the same faceoff circle they also shared a smile and left the talking to before and after the game, Hodgson said in a phone interview.
"It was cool to faceoff against him," he said. "I always liked watching Matt [play]. Seeing him do so well and knowing that if I got healthy and got playing again I could play as well. It's really cool to have both of us come from Haliburton and now both playing [in the NHL]."
They have been friends for most of their lives, playing with and against each other throughout their hockey careers. They have remained friends ever since.
Neither said it, but it's apparent the memory will last long beyond this season.
Hodgson factored in the game's outcome when he threw a nice centring pass to Manny Malholtra, who scored the game's first goal in the opening period and eventual game winner.
Duchene, who was on the ice when Hodgson got the assist, couldn't have been happier for his childhood friend. Hodgson has endured injuries and is currently in his rookie season.
"He's obviously battled hard through a lot of adversity and come out stronger on the other side. I'm really happy for him and I know he'll continue to get better each game he plays. I'm real proud of him," he said in an email from his mobile phone.
As kids, they spent hours playing mini-stick hockey in the basement of the Haliburton house owned by Duchene's parents.
Hodgson has said in an interview he remembers riding his bike from his cottage to Duchene's during the summer.
Several years later the two played on opposing teams with Duchene on the Central Ontario Wolves and Hodgson on the Markham Waxers.
"It was just like minor hockey again. It was fun," Hodgson said, adding he is happy for his friend's success. "Matt's a great hockey player. He is an all-star in the league. I love watching Matt have so much success. He's a great hockey player. I realized playing against him he has such power and speed. He's real smart out there. It's a pleasure to play against him."
They later played together on the same team for the Ontario Hockey League's Brampton Battalion.
Both were drafted into the NHL with Hodgson drafted by the Canucks then the next year Duchene was picked by the Avalanche. Duchene has since gone on to establish himself as an NHL star while Hodgson has worked hard to stay within the future plans of the Canucks.
Throughout it all, the Canucks rookie never forgets the small town that continues to support him as one of their own.
"Haliburton is such a great hockey town. It really supports its players and supports its people. I'm really appreciative of that," he said.
"The support that Haliburton has given me throughout the injuries and before [has been great as] they always come out and show their support. I loved playing in Peterborough in the OHL because it always felt like a home game for Matt and I. It was always fun to go there. Half the rink was from Haliburton," he said.
Hodgson also loves the support from his family including his parents, grandparents and, in particular, his grandmother, who is a dedicated watcher of all of his games, even staying up late for those that end early the next day.
Hodgson, who has played right wing and centre, has averaged 13 minutes of ice time this year and is seventh in team scoring with 10 (four goals six assists) points through 21 games.
On this night Duchene, who leads his team in goals (nine) and points (16) through 22 games, was his usual offensive threat, coming close on a pair of chances in the later stages of the game and nearly setting up a goal for his team. Despite Duchene's best efforts, the Avalanche was unable to score and were shutout by the Canucks 3-0.
Vancouver may have won the game, but it seems the real winners are the childhood friends, fulfilling a dream to play in the NHL.