Dodge leading Clarkson by example

By DJ Powers

He’s not the flashiest player out on the ice, but Clarkson team captain Nick Dodge is certainly the kind of player needed on the ice when the outcome of the game is on the line. The soft-spoken junior’s actions speak quite loudly and people are listening, none more so than his team. His strong leadership and the standard that he has set have helped guide the Golden Knights to an impressive turnaround this season.

After finishing last year in eighth place in the ECACHL standings with an overall record of 16-15-3, Clarkson ended this regular season with a 21-8-5 record and the second seed heading into ECACHL Quarterfinals this past weekend. One constant between the two Clarkson teams has been Dodge leading the team in scoring. The Carolina Hurricanes prospect finished his sophomore campaign with 41 points (16 goals. 25 assists) and as a junior, he has posted 37 points (17 goals, 20 assists) so far.

Since entering Clarkson in the fall of 2004, Dodge has not only grown both as an individual and player but has also seen his role significantly expand each year as well. He has become Clarkson’s "Mr. Everything," doing it all. Whether it’s scoring goals, setting up plays, killing penalties or simply being the thorn in the side of the opposition. And all the while with little fanfare.

"So much of what Nick is, is just the way he approaches things in terms of his work ethic, commitment on the ice and passion," Clarkson head coach George Roll recently told Hockey’s Future. "He’ll accept whatever role the team needs him to perform and he’s certainly done that this year."

A look at his history shows just how far Dodge has come. Prior to coming to Clarkson, he played two seasons for his hometown team, the Oakville Blades (OPJHL). In his first season, he was named the team’s Rookie of the Year. In his second and final season, Dodge posted 79 points (33 goals, 46 assists) and was named to the OPJHL All-Star team.

Like many Canadian-born players in the NCAA, Dodge had the opportunity to play in the Canadian major juniors. However, the CHL didn’t come calling until his second year with the Blades in 2003-04. As Dodge told Hockey’s Future, the NCAA was pretty much the route that he had his sights set on to begin with.

"Well in my first draft year I wasn’t too heavily looked at. I had told some of the teams that did look at me that I was planning to go to college and go to the NCAA. I wasn’t really looked at in my first draft year and was passed over. Then I went to play in the Ontario Provincial Junior A League in my hometown (Oakville, ON) and had a good season there. In my second draft year, I got lots of offers from (CHL) teams that were trying to get me to go that route, but by that time I had already made up my mind that I was going to go to the NCAA.

"My parents definitely had a decision in that. They’ve always stressed school and academics as being the most important thing, so they were obviously pushing me to go that route. I was in a lucky situation because my junior team was able to travel to a number of different universities so I got to see a little bit about what the schools were like and how good the hockey was and all that stuff. So I got lucky to be able to see all of that."

Several NCAA schools had expressed interest in Dodge and while Clarkson was not his initial first choice school, fate, tradition and a little luck would eventually have him wind up in Potsdam, NY donning the green and gold.

"It’s funny because I had originally intended to go to Princeton when Len Quesnelle was the head coach there. He got fired before the last year that I had committed so I started looking at some other schools. I chose Clarkson because it’s just a great school academically and the hockey tradition is so rich. There’ve been so many great hockey players that have come from Clarkson. Cheel Arena is a great facility and the whole school really gets excited about the hockey team and it’s just a fun place to play."

Like in his first days of playing junior hockey, Dodge didn’t generate much attention in his freshman year outside of the Clarkson and ECACHL communities. He finished his collegiate rookie season as the Golden Knights fifth-leading scorer with 18 points (six goals, 12 assists).

Dodge would begin to emerge in his sophomore season but once again he would fly under the radar of many both inside and outside of the college hockey community.

One entity whose radar Dodge was on was the Carolina Hurricanes, so much so that they selected him 183rd overall (sixth round) in the 2006 Entry Draft. The selection caught many draft observers by surprise, especially since few really knew much about him. Dodge was a bit surprised too, but also understands that being drafted is just the first step in the long and uncertain road to the NHL.

"I felt that I had a good year last year and the year before and thought that maybe I’d have the chance to go in the draft, so it was a bit of a surprise. It was a nice feeling to just get recognized. To be selected by an NHL team makes you look at the hard work that you’ve done over the years and be able to look at it as something that’s the first step to the next level."

After a successful sophomore campaign that was capped with being taken in the NHL Draft, Dodge followed it up with another great season this year. One notable difference between this season and last season is how much more detail-oriented his approach to the game has become. Though Dodge continues to be a dominant force on the scoresheet, his meticulous attention in other areas, such as his off-ice conditioning and utilizing his size and strength more effectively on the ice have paid huge dividends to the Clarkson team this season. Nowhere has that been more evident than in one of the strongest areas of his game – faceoffs. Dodge has become one of the top faceoff specialists in the ECACHL, winning just over 56 percent of his draws this season. However, it is in how he’s winning the battles to loose pucks and establishing his presence after the draws that is perhaps the most noteworthy.

"Nick has always been good at winning draws but this year he just seems to be that much more focused on dominating draws no matter where it was on the ice," said Roll.

Like all other collegiate players, Dodge has his favorite NHLers that have been his role models and has influenced his game. But his are more old-school than usual.

"It’s not so much the current players that have influenced me but the specific player that I really looked up to is Cam Neely, when he played for the Boston Bruins. Growing up near Toronto, the player that I watched a lot growing up was Doug Gilmour. I really liked the style of game that he played."

One of the things that Dodge prides himself on is his ability to effectively go up against the opposition’s top lines and shutting them down. It is a valuable tool in his diverse arsenal that has advantageously helped his team.

"I would say that I’m a shutdown center. My line puts up pretty good numbers and a lot of points and stuff, but one thing that we all pride ourselves on is our ability to go up against other teams’ top lines and be able to shut them down and keep them off of the scoreboard," said Dodge.

Clarkson’s success this year can be attributed in part to their balanced scoring. The Golden Knights currently have seven players on their roster with 20 or more points and possess the nation’s sixth-ranked offense that is averaging 3.53 goals per game. The spreading of the offensive wealth throughout the lineup has benefited Dodge greatly. He looks more relaxed out on the ice and it never comes at the expense of his reliability or his desire to compete hard night in and night out.

Another attribute that has made Clarkson so successful this year is the maturity of the team and its impact on their commitment to each other and to the philosophy that the coaching staff has advocated for the team. That commitment was tested in the final weekend of the regular season when Princeton handed the Golden Knights a humbling 1-7 loss. As Dodge explains, it was about getting back to the basics and refocusing on the team philosophy, something that happened when they defeated Quinnipiac the following night.

"Without a doubt that game was as bad as we’ve been all season. We didn’t really work too hard. We definitely got outworked by a pretty good Princeton team that was playing for quite a bit. It was just the realization that we had gotten away from the things that we were doing well. We’ve got a lot of talent on this team but it’s the simple plays and hard work that has made us successful all year. We needed to just go back to the basics, keep things simple and get pucks deep. I guess that’s what we were all concentrating on."

As the Golden Knights prepare for Friday’s ECACHL semi-final against the Dartmouth Big Green, two things are certain – the team will be focused and ready and the Golden Knights captain will do everything in his power to make sure it stays that way. The ability and opportunity to compete for a national championship means that the team comes before the individual player. It’s all about pride, hard work and total commitment to your teammates.

As far as Dodge is concerned, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.