By Darren Lum
Published Jan. 15 2019
Surrounded by parents and their young beaming children wearing Timbits hockey jerseys in the A.J. LaRue Arena's dressing room former NHLer Cody Hodgson looks at ease signing autographs.
Hodgson met with the young hockey players at the Haliburton rink on Wednesday Jan. 2 while visiting family for several days away from his home in Nashville Tennessee.
Minutes before his appearance he spoke with the Echo about this new chapter following several seasons playing in the NHL for the Vancouver Canucks the Buffalo Sabres and Nashville Predators.
He remains close to the game he learned as a child during winters on Haliburton Lake by teaching children as head alumnus for the Little Preds Learn to Play Program.
“It was bit of an adjustment obviously going to the rink every day. Not being able to do that you have to find something else to take your attention and try to stay productive. That's why I enjoy this. I think it's a challenge but I enjoy it. It helps me keep around the game. I still see lots of the guys at the rink and stuff like that. I enjoy it. I'm still looking for more things as well” he said.
Two years ago Hodgson was forced to retire from professional hockey because of his malignant hyperthermia a known hereditary complication linked to the genetic mutation known as RYR-1 gene. His story of living with the rare disorder is featured in a new documentary named after him: Hodgson.
The condition affects his muscular system and is triggered by prolonged exercise.
Hodgson has partnered with the RYR-1 Foundation and is working to bring attention to the disorder. There is no cure for the disorders caused by the mutation of the RYR-1 gene but the goal of the foundation is to help find one.
Hodgson said he hasn't done a lot of interviews with the media for three years but agreed to an interview because of the recently released documentary.
“For the foundation I'm happy to give them some publicity and hopefully they can find a cure for this disorder but at the same time raise awareness so other people aren't affected negatively. Really educate physicians along with the families because it's kind of a rare disorder. I think the documentary hopefully gets some attention and allow the families that maybe struggled with the same stuff that I went through to get some help” he said.
That first year after he was diagnosed was the most difficult he said.
He was used to exercising daily and doing whatever he liked.
“You're just told you can't. You can't go for a bike ride. You can't go jogging. You can't … otherwise it would keep triggering it so that was tough and you never want to be on any medication for a long period of time. So I tried to get off medication as fast as possible. You still have to take it to avoid any symptoms that are more serious. Dealing with that was more difficult the first year. After that it was [me] getting used to it. I just try to watch what I do and make sure [I don't exert too much]” he said.
The threshold in which physical exertion triggers his muscular system changes. Currently he goes on light jogs or walks.
He said he is among the lucky ones with the disorder.
“To be honest a lot of guys have problems with knees or they can't move as well. I can pretty much do everything except you know high level sport so I look at it as I'm pretty fortunate to do pretty much everything” he said.
For the past two years Hodgson has been co-ordinating youth hockey development for the Predators and the NHL.
He teaches children who have never played hockey before how to play.
His work takes him to rinks in seven states close to Tennessee where the Nashville Predators are based such as Georgia Alabama and Indiana. The sessions are an hour and a half at a time over six weeks one day a week. He'll do three or four of these six-week sessions at each of the centres and rinks. There are some 1500 children from four to nine years old participating in the learn to play program which is a partnership between the league its players' union and the Predators that Hodgson and other NHL alumni help run.
“They both got together and thought the best way to grow the game was to get kids involved and try to make it streamlined across the NHL. They wanted to have a good standard so they asked the alumni to come and help out” he said referring to the league and the players’ union.
The players' association and the Predators asked Hodgson to be part of this programming.
Although the program is year-round he works during the NHL season from September to June.
When asked about the challenges of teaching ice hockey in places where football and basketball are the sports of choice he said there is a benefit to working with young people who don't know the game.
“It's not too too difficult. It's kind of a clean slate. We're able to start the way we wanted to with the Preds program. A lot of the centres and rinks they're happy to have us down there” he said. “The biggest thing is the cost. We're trying to subsidize that. Kids get free gear. They just pay for the on-ice lessons which is way less than soccer. We got to compete with a lot of those sports down there like basketball. We got to try and make it comparable in terms of price” he said.
The main focus he said is to make learning fun. That's where former players like him come in.
“Come in and make sure they're getting better. If they can't skate they're not going to enjoy it much. If they can do skills and get around the ice [then] hopefully [they] come back” he said.
The concept of giving back is rooted in the people who made his success possible.
“A lot of people made my journey possible. They spent time at the rink or they spent time answering my questions. Guys like [former NHLers] Walt McKechnie and Ron Stackhouse and Glen Sharpley and Bernie Nicholls. Every chance I got I was asking them questions. They helped me a lot so I thought I'd return … keep it going” he said.
As the NHL lead alumnus for the Little Preds Hockey Program Nashville is home for Hodgson now. He's enjoying it there and is thankful to the Predators for his opportunity.
“Things are good. It's a fun city. There's a lot of good people. The organization is top notch. They've treated me so well. Even though they knew I couldn't play they still asked if I wanted to be part of it and be around. I can't thank them enough. They've got amazing character quality people. Obviously they're a great hockey team – they've been to the Stanley Cup final a couple years ago and President's Trophy winners. They're just good people too. It's nice” he said.
There's nothing like the freshwater lakes in the Highlands though particularly in the summer he said.
People in Nashville are always surprised when he tells them he can drink the water from the lakes.
“People think you're crazy when you tell them you can drink the lake water” he said laughing.
Hodgson said he's been up to Haliburton visiting regularly this year.
Most of the summer he adds he spent at the family cottage.
“I try to see a lot of family and friends as much as possible” he said. “I love it up here. It's where I started playing hockey. I have a lot of connection to the area. My family is all from this area. [I can see] grandparents aunts and uncles and everyone. It's good to be back and see familiar faces.”
Among those familiar faces included family friends Ryan Wood and Brad Park who asked Hodgson to join the Timbits hockey players on the ice and after for a meeting and autographs.
“I enjoy it so I do it for a living now but I actually enjoy coming out too with them” he said referring to the local children.
The disorder ended his NHL career prematurely but didn't stop him from helping others or assisting the RYR-1 Foundation with their goal to raise awareness and to find a cure.
Hodgson might be retired from the NHL but he is far from finished with giving back to the community and the game he loves.
For more information on the RYR-1 Foundation and the work they are doing see www.ryr1.org.