Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Justin Hodgman of the Komets tries to take an inside shot during the second period against Brampton at Memorial Coliseum Monday night.
Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Justin Hodgman, of the Komets, fights for control over the puck with Olivier Labelle, of the Indy Fuel, during the third period at Memorial Coliseum Saturday night.
Monday, January 07, 2019 2:30 pm
Komets' Hodgman resurrects career with all-star nod
JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette
Justin Hodgman has played in the NHL, so one might think being selected today to play in the ECHL All-Star Classic wouldn't be such a big deal to him. But he was in such a dark place after last season that he wasn't sure he wanted to continue lacing up the skates.
He sees becoming an all-star as the proof that he's resurrected his career, and he couldn't be more proud.
“It means the world to me. From where I was at the last few years of my career, and even personally, I was in a really tough place. I didn't even know if I wanted to keep on playing hockey,” said Hodgman, who has 12 goals and a team-leading 39 points in 31 games for the Komets.
“I didn't know how many years I had left. So to have this turnaround, it means the world to me. I wanted it. I've never been an all-star as a pro.”
Hodgman didn't get into the specifics of what was going on with him away from the ice, but any fan of the Komets who saw him play last season knew he wasn't quite himself. He was still better than the typical ECHL player, totaling nine goals and 25 points in 30 games, but he was hindered by a shoulder injury, illnesses and a death in the family.
When he finally did return for the playoffs, he was concussed in the first game on a hit by Cincinnati's Dominic Zombo and sat out the rest of the postseason, as Fort Wayne reached Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.
“I just went through a tough time away from the ice, away from the rink. I wasn't taking care of myself nearly as well as I should have been,” Hodgman said. “I wasn't being the best teammate. When I was here, I wasn't present. I had a lot of honest conversations about it with people close to me, and I've turned it around. I think everyone can see the dividends it's paying.”
Hodgman knew when he re-signed with the Komets in the summer of 2017 that expectations would be high on him because of the way he started his career with the team: he scored the Turner Cup-winning goal as a 19-year-old rookie in the International Hockey League in triple overtime of Game 7 against Port Huron in 2008 and was named Playoff MVP, then helped them to championships in 2009 and 2010.
And he knew after the way last season went, the Komets didn't have to stick with him for another season, since they had to use one of their four veteran spots on him.
“I was truly disappointed with how it went last year and I couldn't be more happy and proud with being able to turn it around,” said Hodgman, who is fifth in ECHL scoring, four points behind leader T.J. Hensick of Toledo.
Hodgman, 30, played five games for the NHL's Arizona Coyotes in 2014-15, scoring a goal, and he's spent the bulk of his career either in the higher-level American Hockey League or overseas, notably in the Kontinental Hockey League.
That Hodgman has been impressive offensively is what the Komets' fans craved all last season, and they've gotten to see: a goal and four assists in a 6-3 victory over the Kalamazoo Wings on Nov. 3, his first five-point game since juniors; and his epic no-look drop pass to Jake Kamrass for a goal in a 2-1 victory over the Wings on Dec. 27, maybe the prettiest play in the ECHL this season.
“He's a big-time catalyst for what we do,” coach Gary Graham said. “I really think the game is played from the inside out, so the centerman position is key. You want to have depth down the middle. Your centermen are truly like a quarterback. They need to amplify their lines; it's their jobs to make their lines go. They need to amplify the left side and the right side and he does a great job of it. The guys that play with him are usually the benefactors of it.”
Hodgman's plus-9 rating is the best on the team and he's proud to be contributing so much defensively.
“I just finished talking to my agent and I was telling him, 'I'm playing some of the best hockey I've ever played,'” Hodgman said. “I've never killed penalties – maybe the odd penalty – but being one of our go-to penalty killers, that means the world to me to be counted on defensively, when it's not something I've always been able to do.
“My defensive game, I've made big strides, and to be able to contribute on a nightly basis, I love it and I'm proud of myself. I'm proud of the team. It's all positive vibes right now.”
The All-Star Weekend will have a lot for Fort Wayne's fans. The Komets play the Toledo Walleye at the Huntington Center at 5:15 p.m. Jan. 20. And the All-Star Classic, which will be a four-team 3-on-3 tournament, including two Walleye teams, will begin 7 p.m. Jan. 21.
Former Komets coach Greg Puhalski, who led them to the United Hockey League championship in 2003, will be inducted into the Walleye's Hall of Fame. Former Komets player Rick Judson will go into the ECHL's Hall of Fame. And the Stanley Cup will be on display.
"I definitely wanted it. I'm honored and I hope I make the Komets proud," Hodgman said.
For details on all, go to: www.toledowalleye.com/allstar/schedule