MINSK, Belarus — Cody Hodgson was in the right place at the right time for his hat trick in Canada’s 6-1 drubbing of Denmark on Thursday.
In the big picture of his career, Hodgson is also right where he wants to be at the age of 24 and is showing it at the world hockey championship.
“Just feeling more comfortable,” Hodgson said at Chizhovka Arena after his three-goal performance. “I enjoy playing this game, I love playing hockey and when you’re healthy and able to do everything you feel like you can do and your body translates what your mind wants, it’s fun.”
Hodgson is healthy again after being bothered by back injuries earlier in his career and then wrist and thumb problems this past season.
In leading the way past Denmark, the Buffalo Sabres forward showed glimpses of the player scouts projected he’d become as the 10th pick in the 2008 draft.
“Earlier in his career, (for) young players it’s hard to jump in, especially with high expectations,” coach Dave Tippett said.
“And then he had some injury issues, I think it was some back issues, that really probably hurt his development. You’re starting to see a player now — even (if) he got lots of opportunity in Buffalo this year, put up some points — come here (and) he’s playing on a line with some good players and (being) opportunistic.”
Hodgson scored Canada’s first two goals against Denmark, and Matt Read scored twice to break the game open. Jonathan Huberdeau had his first of the tournament before Hodgson finished off the hat trick on the power play.
“Sometimes you’ve got to get lucky to score, but I’ll take ’em,” Hodgson said.
Tippett’s word — opportunistic — might be better. Hodgson’s first goal came about when he poked the puck past Danish defender and Philadelphia Flyers prospect Oliver Lauridsen, and his second came after a giveaway wound up right on his stick between the circles. It took skill to finish those plays.
“Those first two goals were good shots,” Tippett said.
“Their goaltender’s out and square, but when you shoot it quick like that, it makes it hard on the goaltender. That’s who Cody is: He’s a guy that we’ve got him in a situation where he’s going to get some opportunities with the players he’s playing with, and it’s great to see him capitalize on some of those opportunities.”
Hodgson just happened to pick a game with five Vancouver Canucks on the ice to shine. While the former Canucks draft pick was the star of the game, Nicklas Jensen scored Denmark’s only goal, and Jannik Hansen made sure to give Hodgson a friendly bump while he was giving interviews afterward.
Traded to Buffalo in exchange for Zack Kassian at the 2012 trade deadline, Hodgson had nothing but good things to say about his time in Vancouver. He still trains with Chris Tanev and felt fortunate to see a bunch of former teammates when the Sabres were in town this past season.
Hodgson had a career high 44 points in 72 games after putting up 34 in the lockout-shortened 2013 NHL season. Those 34 points and his potential earned him a US$25.5-million, six-year contract that also saddled him with even higher expectations.
Sabres fans had plenty to smile about Thursday at the world championship, not only with Hodgson’s hat trick but a strong game from Zemgus Girgensons as Ted Nolan’s Latvian team beat the United States 6-5 at Minsk Arena.
While the U.S. is struggling in Group B, Hodgson helped Canada to its third victory in four games. Up next is Italy on Friday before Sunday’s showdown with Sweden.
Tippett said Thursday evening he didn’t know which goaltender would start against Italy. Ben Scrivens stopped 29 of the 30 shots he faced in beating Denmark, while James Reimer has 57 saves on 63 shots over two starts.
Beyond a scoring explosion of four goals in under 10 minutes keyed by Read’s first goal midway through the third, Canada showed some more improvements in routing Denmark. For the first time in four games, it did not give up a goal on the penalty kill, and Read even scored short-handed.
“We’ve been focusing on it the last two days, our penalty kill,” Read said. “A lot of teams they rely on their good power play, they know how to move the puck very well and if our penalty kill does our job and we break even on the night not allowing a goal or getting a goal, that’s a plus for us.”
A minus is the four penalties Canada took that would’ve been more costly had this been an elimination game against a stronger opponent.
“I think (we’ve) just got to play more (a) intelligent (game),” Huberdeau said. “It’s some bad penalties. I had a bad penalty, so I think it’s (important) to keep skating and when you have the puck you won’t take any penalties.”
Despite the penalties, Canada had no trouble rolling over Denmark. But Hodgson hopes he and his teammates are just warming up offensively.
“It doesn’t matter what we did now,” he said. “It’s what happens in the medal rounds, that’s when the serious hockey begins.”