St. Petersburg Times
Tampa Bay Lightning

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Hodson ready after seasons off

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 2, 2002

It would have been so easy for Kevin Hodson to blame former coach Steve Ludzik for what went wrong when Hodson played for the Lightning from 1999-2000.

But rather than shift the blame for a dysfunctional relationship that contributed to Hodson's demotion to the minors and subsequent trade to the Canadiens, the goaltender put it squarely on his shoulders.

"People can say whatever they want about what happened with me and the coaching staff," Hodson said last week. "But I take the onus on myself. I didn't give myself a chance."

Hodson, who has not played an NHL game since Feb. 8, 2000, when he gave up eight goals in the Sharks' 8-0 rout of Tampa Bay, is getting another shot with the Lightning, which wants him to be Nikolai Khabibulin's backup.

It is a mutually beneficial relationship.

Hodson, 30, who spent last season as an assistant coach with OHL Sault Ste. Marie, wants to get back to the big time. Tampa Bay needs a backup and, because Hodson has no bargaining leverage, signed him to a contract that fits nicely into the austerity plan; about $200,000, but only $40,000 if he plays in the minors.

Lightning goaltenders coach Jeff Reese, who kept contact with Hodson over the years, always liked Hodson's puck-handling ability, athleticism and the easy way he fit into the locker room.

Reese convinced general manager Jay Feaster to consider Hodson. But it wasn't until a face-to-face meeting with Feaster that Hodson got his shot.

"He could have come in and done that, and I would have understood totally," Feaster said of blaming Ludzik. "Steve was very hard on goaltenders. But I was impressed that he didn't take that opportunity with me. He put all the blame on himself."

Hodson said he did not respect the game.

"It was the things that I didn't do in terms of work ethic and practicing hard and preparing myself to be mentally and physically prepared," Hodson said. "Getting proper rest and treating the coaching staff with respect and being a professional."

The birth of son Noah, now 1, to Hodson and wife Maarika added perspective, as did a year working with coach Craig Hartsburg at Sault Ste. Marie.

"He taught me a lot about preparation and attention to detail and everything it takes to become an NHL player," Hodson said. "He formed that into my personality, to take everything a lot more seriously."

Hodson was on the right track when he entered the league with the Red Wings. From 1995 through March 1999, when he was acquired by the Lightning for Wendel Clark, Hodson was 13-7-4 in 35 games. He was 9-3-3 with two shutouts and a 2.67 goals-against average in 1997-98.

The bad news: He was 4-8-5 with a 3.46 GAA and a horrible .870 save percentage in 29 games with the Lightning.

And that was two years ago.

Not a concern, said Feaster, who used Khabibulin and John Vanbiesbrouck as examples of goalies who played well after significant layoffs.

"I'd like to think any number of goaltenders lately have proved that is not a fatal situation," Feaster said. "And (Hodson) is only 30."

"And he's very hungry," Reese said. "Kevin has something to prove to a lot of people and himself."

Besides, whomever backs up Khabibulin will play only about 20 games a season. And as Feaster so honestly pointed out, "If (a backup) has to give us 60 because Habby is hurt, we're up a creek without a paddle with a storm brewing anyway. That's a bigger problem than a backup is going to solve for you."

To Hodson's credit, he is thinking big.

"I'm not coming here to be a backup," he said. "I'm going to push him and really challenge him and make him a better goalie by working hard. I'm not comfortable playing 15 games. I'm not comfortable being a backup anymore."

GOALIE PROBLEMS: Feaster said he could still trade for a goaltender or pick one up through free agency or in the late rounds of the draft. Tampa Bay could use some depth because there is no one with whom to trust the future.

Evgeny Konstantinov, 21, did not progress as hoped last season with ECHL Pensacola. Brian Eklund, 21, played four years at Brown University but lost his starting job last season and had an .871 save percentage, and Michal Lanicek, 20, played mostly for UHL Muskegon.

Konstantinov is Khabibulin's heir apparent, and Feaster wants him NHL-ready by 2005 or 2006. But Konstantinov struggled last season with preparation and focus, and was 10-10-0 with a 3.47 GAA and a .901 save percentage in 24 games.

"He's the guy who has to take a step and develop a work ethic and become serious about it," Feaster said. "There's no question he has the physical ability, but mentally, he doesn't know how to work."

The plan is to move Konstantinov up a notch to AHL Springfield.

"He has to be the hardest-working guy there," Feaster said. "I don't know if he realizes the opportunity that's here for him, but the sooner he recognizes it, the better off he will be."

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