Not many things have gone as Cody Hodgson planned in 2012. He’s been sentenced to the minors because of the lockout, sidelined with a broken hand and belittled by a former general manager, among other hockey troubles.
But as the days on the calendar dwindle, the year has begun to change. He’s back on the ice for the Rochester Americans and showing why the Buffalo Sabres have such high expectations for him.
The fans in Buffalo got to see his turnaround firsthand Friday night. Hodgson scored two picturesque goals in First Niagara Center to help lead the Amerks to a 4-1 victory over Lake Erie. He’s scheduled to be one of the Sabres’ top two centers whenever the NHL resumes, and he looked the part in front of an announced crowd of 19,070 – an Amerks record and the eighth-largest gathering in American Hockey League history.
“Obviously, everyone wants to see the NHL going, me included, but I’m playing in the best league I can play right now so things are going well,” Hodgson said.
The multipoint game continues a quality run for Hodgson since he returned to the lineup Dec. 15. In his six games back, Hodgson has eight points, and the four goals have come in the last two outings.
The center started the season as a point-per-game player, putting up one goal and nine assists in the opening nine games. But a two-handed slash stopped his momentum for longer than anticipated. Originally scheduled to miss a week or two, Hodgson sat out six weeks and 14 games with the broken hand.
“I kept in good shape,” said Hodgson, who skated with a long list of people that ranged from Sabres skating consultant Dawn Braid to the Amerks’ defensemen to the coaching staffs of Rochester and Buffalo. “I’ve probably been on the ice more than I would have if I’d have kept playing, but I feel comfortable out there and things are clicking.”
Hodgson’s return and revival have the Amerks hoping they can find their desired consistency.
They had a three-game winning streak in October but have rode a win-loss rollercoaster to a 15-11-3 record.
“When we play the way we need to and we’re focused on it, we have a very good team,” coach Ron Rolston said. “We just haven’t had the kind of consistency that we’d like.”
Now that Hodgson and Mark Mancari are producing, a good run appears possible.
Like Hodgson, Mancari’s blueprint for the season sustained serious alterations. The veteran right winger averaged nearly 30 goals over the previous four seasons, and he expected a similar result in his return to the Buffalo organization.
Mancari, though, endured a slump of 15 games without a goal and had just three entering the Amerks’ game Dec. 13.
He scored the second goal Friday to extend his points streak to five straight games (two goals, five assists). In the last seven outings, Mancari has three goals and nine points to bring his season totals to six tallies and 22 points.
“I was in a little bit of a slump there,” he said. “Now it’s time for me to get back on track.
“It was really hard to deal with,” added Mancari, who played in the Sabres’ organization from 2005 to 2011. “I put a lot of pressure on myself coming back, wanting to do things a lot better this time. It was definitely difficult, but all you can do is work harder and hopefully things will go your way. They’re starting to.”
Hodgson opened the scoring on the power play, and he didn’t need much help to do it. Stationed on the left wing with the Amerks on a five-on-three advantage, Hodgson slowly made his way toward the net. He traveled through the faceoff circle without opposition and reached around goaltender Sami Aittokallio.
Mancari’s unassisted goal, rifled into the top corner, doubled the Amerks’ lead over the Colorado Avalanche’s affiliate.
Hodgson made it 3-0 when he faked a forehand pass to fool a defender and created a clear path to the net. Then, Hodgson fought off the hook of a backchecker and slipped a backhand through Aittokallio’s pads to get the crowd roaring.
Nick Tarnasky gave the Amerks a 4-1 lead with 8:06 remaining. Goaltender David Leggio from Williamsville finished with 36 saves.
“It’s always nice to play in front of the Buffalo fans,” Hodgson said. “They want hockey as bad as we do in the NHL. It’s nice to get the win for them.”