Hodgson always delivers that little bit extra

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

The best leaders -- in sports, politics, anything -- give everything expected of them.

Then, they find that little bit more.

That's Brampton Battalion captain Cody Hodgson.

Most knew, when John Tavares won the world junior MVP in Ottawa, it could've just as easily gone to Hodgson, his Canadian teammate who led the tournament in scoring and saved his best for the gold-medal final against Sweden.

Yesterday, ahead of tonight's OHL championship opener in Windsor, the Vancouver Canucks first-rounder received his due.

The 19-year-old from Haliburton was awarded the Red Tilson Trophy as the OHL's most outstanding player. In media voting, he ended up with 161 points ahead of Tavares (who won the Tilson two years ago) with 115 and Belleville goalie Mike Murphy at 76.

"As good as Cody is on the ice," Brampton GM and head coach Stan Butler said, "he's even better off the ice."

The on-ice stuff, though, is impressive. Hodgson was the league's most sportsmanlike player and picked by the Eastern Conference coaches as the smartest, hardest working, best in faceoffs and top penalty killer.

What does he do for an encore? Lift everyone's spirits?

Well, yeah.

Butler relayed what everyone expects but never sees: it's late, in the midst of the playoffs, everyone has gone home and two of the Battalion's younger players who aren't getting much ice are in the weight room.

There's Hodgson right there with them, encouraging them, telling them things will look up if they work hard, the way he knew they'd get better after having to face off against Barrie's fierce scorer Bryan Little (now with the Atlanta Thrashers) as a raw youngster.

Hodgson didn't get as many goals or points as Tavares, the OHL's leading scorer, this year.

In fact, he became the first player since former Toronto Maple Leaf and Erie Otter Brad Boyes seven years ago to win the Tilson without recording 100 points.

Hodgson didn't single-handedly keep his team afloat the way Murphy did early in the season.

In fact, when he returned after an extended stay at Canucks camp, his Troops were limping out to a five losses in their first eight games.

At the tail end of that slide in Sudbury, Hodgson got into a rare fight and was suspended for a couple of games. The Battalion were irritated by the call and launched a streak, winning 16 in a row.

In nearly every game when they needed a late goal, Hodgson came through.

That's leadership -- on and off the ice.

"I studied Steve Yzerman," said Hodgson, whose father Chris was a cabinet minister when the Ontario government was Conservative. "(Mark) Messier, too. I read about those guys and what they did."

Hodgson isn't Brampton's first OHL Tilson winner.

Three years ago, current Colorado Avalanche forward Wojtek Wolski captured the honour after an eye-popping 47-goal, 128-point season. That spring of 2006, the top-notch Battalion suffered another disappointing playoff.

Then, they grabbed Hodgson with the 17th pick of that year's OHL draft.

"Wojtek was dangerous within 15 feet of the net like another guy in London (Tavares)," Butler said. "Cody won this a year younger, which says a lot. He's the guy who can score the big goal, he's great on the power play, but he also thrives playing against the other team's top line.

"He's the guy you want to win you the big faceoff at the end of the game. He's the guy you want out there in every situation."

Now, he has the Troops in a position they've never been before: through three playoffs rounds, in the league championship against mighty Windsor and backed by a growing number of Brampton supporters.

Hodgson has a burger named in his honour at Haliburton restaurant McKeck's, owned by former NHLer and London native Walt McKechnie.

He was, in some minds, the steal of the NHL draft at No. 10.

He spent part of his last summer in London sweating under the tutelage of Vancouver player development boss Dave Gagner, called on to improve the prospect's speed and pace. Canucks GM Mike Gillis didn't think it would be fair for Hodgson to fight for a lineup spot at the NHL level. He wanted him to play in the world juniors, lead a junior team, chase a Memorial Cup.

"This is a great group in Brampton," he says. "I love coming to the rink every day."

And when he's there, everyone follows his lead.


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