Hodges hunting for roster spot

Steve Hodges played five games for Chilliwack last season

If you were to hand Steven Hodges $500 and tell him to go out and plan the perfect day, he would have everything mapped out in a split second.

“Skydiving,” the 16-year-old says without even the slightest hesitation. “I would take that $500 and I would go skydiving. That’s one thing I’ve always wanted to do.”

A self-described ‘adrenaline junkie,’ Chilliwack’s 2009 first round bantam draft pick has jumped off cliffs and bungie-jumped 110 feet off a platform at West Edmonton Mall.

Hodges is no stranger to adventure.

“I like that kind of thing, but bungie jumping just isn’t doing it for me any more,” he laughed. “I think skydiving would be an unreal experience. Falling through the sky at terminal velocity, it’d be scary, and I’d actually worry I might not pull my chute.”

Not that that would stop him.

Asked why he would volunteer to hurl himself from an airplane at 10,000 feet, an activity that 99 per cent of us would shy away from, Hodges smiles and says, ‘No fear.’

Maybe this is the sort of mindset that is acquired when one grows up in the North West Territories, land of big bears, cold temperatures and snow. Lots and lots of snow.

“It’s really very nice up there,” Hodges said, providing the sales pitch for his hometown of Yellowknife. “You definitely want to be there in the winter. There’s so much powder, the Ski-Dooing is unreal. It would be a nice change from somewhere that’s hot.”

It is a place where hunting ptarmigan is a favourite past-time.

A ptarmigan is a member of the grouse family, looking very much like a white crow. Hodges bagged his first ptarmigan when he was five years old.

“You cook ‘em up and they’re absolutely delicious,” Hodges explained. “But they’re not very smart. What we did before dad would let us shoot guns is we’d sneak up behind them, grab ‘em by the neck and give ‘em a couple twirls.”

Sounds a bit harsh, but keep in mind Hodges is describing a place that is steeped in hunting culture, a place where cariboo and elk roam free and his dad was once chased out of a tent by a marauding bear.

“I’ve never hunted any bigger animals, but ice fishing is something else that you really want to try if you go up there,” he added. “What you do is you drill your hole in the ice and you set up your T-shaped fishing rod. Then you go hunting or Ski-Dooing for a couple hours and when you come back you’ve got fish. You don’t even have to sit there if you don’t want to.”

Since moving to Delta three years ago for hockey, Hodges has missed out on some of his favourite activities.

But whenever he gets the urge to shoot something, an easy fix is nearby.

“I like to play paintball,” he said. “There was a good place that I found in Delta, but I haven’t found a place in Chilliwack yet. I’ve got my own big gun, and when I get a chance, I like to get out in the middle of nowhere and play.”

Hodges believes paintball and hockey actually share a surprising amount of common traits.

“Both are about team-work,” he said. “In paintball and hockey, communication is huge. If you’ve got a guy across the field and you’re pinned down and need cover, you’ve got to get him where you want him. Same in hockey. You’ve got to know where your linemates are and where they’re going to be.”

The other benefit of paint-ball is pain tolerance.

On more than one occasion, Hodges has been pelted by high-velocity projectiles.

“After a while, you get used to it and it doesn’t hurt so much anymore,” he said. “It’s the same with hits in hockey. You get used to it, and pretty soon you can give and take hits without worrying about it too much.”

A lot of Hodges on-ice behaviour is explained by his upbringing.

He skates like the wind, and could avoid 90 per cent of the physical play if he really wanted to. But in a five-game regular-season audition with Chilliwack last season, Hodges seemed eager to stick his nose into things, wading into battles along the boards and initiating contact.

He seems to have no fear playing against opponents three or four years older than he is.

And once again, the reason can be traced back to Yellowknife.

“I’ve got two older brothers back there and they beat me up a lot,” he laughed. “They’ve taught me lots about life and hockey and they’ve humbled me enough so I’m not rattled by any of the 19 or 20 year olds I see in the Western Hockey League.”

Hodges is the fourth first-rounder to skate for the Bruins since they entered the league in 2006-07, following in the skate-steps of Ryan Howse, Kevin Sundher and Mitch Topping.

Coming off a successful year with the Fraser Valley Bruins in the Major Midget Hockey League, Hodges believes he can not only survive, but thrive in his rookie season.

While the Bruins coaching staff will do their best to down-play expectations, Hodges believes he has the ability to do something no Chilliwack player has done before.

“I’ve never been more ready for something,” he said. “You always want to be the best, and my goal is to be the best. Through hard work, I believe I can be the WHL rookie of the year, and that’s what I’m shooting for this year.”

Hodges is skating at rookie camp until Sunday, and he will join the veterans at main camp next week.

Local fans can get a good look at him during the annual Black/Gold inter-squad game that takes place Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at Prospera Centre.

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