With all due respect to Mats Sundin, Sergei Berezin, Steve Thomas and Dimitri Yushkevich, the Toronto Maple Leafs MVP this past season was goaltender Curtis Joseph, hands down. Cujo helped to give the team the confidence to play an up-tempo, hard-skating offensive game, knowing that he would be back in the nets to bail the team out. Cujo did bail the team out on numerous occasions, as his greatest asset seemed to be the ability to come up with the “big save” when the Leafs needed it most. Curtis Joseph will be 32 heading into the 99-00 season, and should have several good seasons left.
However, there is little question that the Leafs need to develop a young goaltender for “beyond the Cujo years”. The Leafs retain the rights to three young goaltenders, Marc Robitaille, Francis Larivee and Jamie Hodson. Robitaille played the 98-99 season with St. John’s, after being signed by the Leafs as a free-agent out of Northeastern University. Larivee started out the season in St. John’s but his stock has fallen somewhat. Jamie Hodson just may the goaltender that the Leafs are “grooming” to be that future #1 guy.
Jamie has shared the #1 goaltending duties for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL the past two seasons with Jomar Cruz, a 2nd round selection by the Washington Capitols in the 1998 draft himself. The Maple Leafs chose Jamie in the 3rd round of the 1998 NHL entry draft with the 69th overall selection. “I was really hoping to be drafted by a Canadian club or an ‘original 6’ club. Being drafted by the Leafs was a dream come true”, says Jamie. “I have had some contact with Anders Hedberg over the last 2 seasons, and they have let me know they are pleased with my performance so far”, he adds. “I also had some contact during the 97-98 season with Rick Wamsley (ex-Leafs goaltending coach) as he was very helpful in giving me some pointers which helped my game.”
At 6-2, 198 lbs., Jamie fills the net well with his good size. Despite his size, he is light on his feet and moves around the crease with good quickness. “I don’t really try to pattern myself after any particular goalie, but I guess you could classify my style as somewhat a butterfly type. I also like to come out and challenge the shooters as well”, says Hodson. “I like the style of Roy and Brodeur, but Dominik Hasek is probably my favorite NHL goalie”, he adds. Leafs’ fans would take a young goaltender who emulates any of those netminders.
A local boy living in Lenore, Manitoba, Jamie began playing goalie at the age of 13. His game progressed to the point where he played for Team Western at the World Under 17 tournament in the 96-97 season. “Playing with Brandon near my hometown has been a real thrill”, states the young netminder.
Jamie had an excellent season in 97-98, helping to lead Brandon to the WHL finals. He had a record of 12-2-2 during the regular season and became the first WHL goaltender ever, to record shutouts in his first two games (Prince Albert and Edmonton) in October, 1997. His goals against average was 3.34 with a .880 save pct. His play was instrumental in the playoffs, although he did miss the finals due to injury.
Jamie’s play between the pipes improved very nicely during the 98-99 season for Brandon as he played a bigger role on the team. He played in 43 regular season games with a 23-12-3 record and 4 shutouts, sharing a 5th shutout with Cruz. His goals against average improved to 3.22 with a .895 save pct. Brandon’s head coach, Bob Lowes , states that Jamie’s ability to make the big save is his strongest attribute.
Unfortunately, matters changed for Jamie in March as a breakaway forward fell awkwardly across Hodson’s left knee, causing a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament. At first, diagnosed as a twisted, sprained knee, Jamie took 3 weeks off and tried to battle through the injury. He finished the season, and obviously affected by the injury, had a tough time in the playoffs as Brandon was ousted in the first round in 5 games.
When the knee failed to improve and in fact worsened, Jamie went to Toronto where a 70% tear of the ACL was diagnosed. He underwent successful surgery in May and stayed in Toronto for 6 weeks to begin his rehabilitation. After making good progress, Jamie returned to Brandon where he has continued his recovery with daily workouts. “The doctors have stated that I am on schedule and I may possibly return to the ice in November or December of this year”, states Hodson. “When I’m back on the ice, I may have to control my movements a bit at first, but it will just be a matter of regaining my confidence that the knee will hold up”, he adds. It was rumored that until the injury, Jamie was being looked at to represent Team Canada at this years’ WJC tournament.
With two #1 goaltenders, Brandon will most likely look to move either Hodson or Cruz once Jamie is back in the lineup. “That’s the indication that the team has given us. They have been up front with both of us the entire time”, says Hodson. A forthcoming trade can only be for the best for both players, allowing them both to get the prime time in the nets for their respective teams. That move can only hasten the progress of Hodson.
“I feel the strength of my game is my focus and concentration, although all young goalies need to work on becoming mentally stronger”, says Hodson. “I feel that I continue to need improvement on my mobility around the net and playing the proper angles on the shooters”, he adds.
Where does Jamie see himself in 5 years? “I hope that I will be in the NHL at that time, battling for a #1 position. Hopefully, that will be in Toronto, but we’ll have to see how things work out”, he states.
Five years from now, the Toronto Maple Leafs might be entering the post-Cujo era, and just might be relying on a young man named Jamie Hodson to carry them through into the next one. There’s a long way to go, but Jamie seems to have the mental makeup, the physical skills and the desire to someday make his mark as an NHL goalie. Starting in goal, for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Jamie Hodson!!!!!!!!!!! That has a nice ring to it…………….
Special thanks to Brandon Wheat Kings goaltender, Jamie Hodson for his time in conducting this interview.