SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
Chess taught Canucks’ Hodgson value of patience
Brad Ziemer, November 15
VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks were never searching for Bobby Fischer, but they were looking for Cody Hodgson.
They have finally found him or rather they have found one another. After a somewhat rocky start to their relationship and a serious back injury that slowed Hodgson’s progress, the 21-year-old seems to have arrived as an NHL regular.
It’s enough for a guy to yell checkmate, which happens to be one of Hodgson’s favourite words.
Hodgson, you see, has a cerebral side, one that the rookie forward believes helps him on the ice. Hodgson loves to play chess and thinks the many hours he has spent hunched over a board contemplating his next move has benefitted him in the much faster game of hockey.
“You defend and go on the attack as a team or as a group,” Hodgson says. “You can’t just attack with one piece. And you try and think ahead a little bit, control the centre of the ice, control the centre of the board. There are quite a few similarities, actually.”
It seems to be working. Hodgson scored a goal and added an assist in Sunday’s 4-1 win over the New York Islanders. That was his third two-point outing in his last seven games and heading into Tuesday night’s schedule Hodgson was fifth among NHL rookies with nine points.
Hodgson is playing on a new line with centre Maxim Lapierre and David Booth and the trio got a positive review from coach Alain Vigneault, who likes more than the offence that Hodgson is starting to provide.
“I see some good progression there as far as his battle level on the walls, coming up with those 50-50 pucks,” Vigneault said Tuesday. “He is progressing in that area five-on-five. He has had some very good shifts on the power play, protecting the puck, finding the open man and getting that unit to be effective in certain games. We see a lot of upside there.”
His play, on the ice, has also impressed his teammates.
“I didn’t really know much about him before I came here,” said winger Chris Higgins. “I didn’t really get to see much of him last year because he wasn’t playing a whole lot in the playoffs. But he is starting to get more ice time now and the first couple things I have learned about him is that he is a very headsy player, smart, kind of knows where to go on the ice to get the puck and protects the puck well down low.
“That is something that has surprised me about him. He definitely has got skills, but he’s good along the boards, he uses his body well to protect the puck. I think that is a very under-rated aspect of his game.”
Hodgson has four goals this season and thinks he should have at least twice that many.
“I would have liked to bury a bunch of my chances, that breakaway the other day (in Anaheim),” he said. “I felt even at the start of the year I had a ton of chances that weren’t going in. I can’t complain, obviously. I am playing, I am contributing and a part of the team. That’s all you can really ask for.”
Hodgson knows he must be patient, which is another thing chess has taught him. He’s been playing it almost as long as hockey.
“I started really young,” he said. “My dad taught my brother and I the game and we have always played against each other and friends. I was actually in the chess club growing up until high school and then I didn’t have a lot of time to play competitively. I enjoy it. I like the mental aspect of it.”
He still plays a lot. If you ever see him staring into his cellphone, he’s probably not texting a friend. He’s playing chess.
“I play on my phone more than anything. I haven’t found someone on the team to play too regularly with. I have an account on Yahoo Sports and you can play against other competitors and you have a ranking and you can pick and choose who you play against. And then on the plane and stuff I’ll just play on my phone.
“It’s just a different type of competitiveness. You don’t beat the guy with your physical strength, you try to beat him by thinking the game.”