Rookie card extra special for Raider legend
Dan Hodgson was euphoric like a child at Christmas when he found out he was finally getting his own licensed NHL hockey card.
After starring for the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders at centre from 1982 to 1985 and leading them to WHL and Memorial Cup titles in 1984-85, Hodgson would play parts of four seasons in the NHL from 1985 to 1989 with the Toronto Maple Leafs for one campaign and the Vancouver Canucks for three seasons. In total, Hodgson suited up for 114 career regular season games collecting 29 goals and 45 assists including playing 40 regular season games as a rookie with the Maple Leafs in 1985-85 posting 13 goals and 12 assists.
Even with playing 40 regular season games as a rookie, a licensed NHL hockey card was never made for Hodgson until just recently. On January 13, Upper Deck announced it had created a limited edition eight card set featuring Indigenous hockey players who never had an NHL licenced hockey card. The set was dubbed “First Peoples Rookie Cards,” and the 57-year-old Hodgson is one of the eight players in the set pictured in his #16 white 1980s style Maple Leafs jersey.
“I’ve been asked over the years countless, countless times for a rookie card or do I have one,” said Hodgson, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 179 pounds. “I would always have to tell the people ‘no,’ and it was always kind of strange to be honest with you to not have one.
“Now to have one and I think maybe in the way it came about through the Indigenous cards it is even kind of extra special.”
Hodgson, who is Cree, was featured along with Dan Frawley, Johnny Harms, Victor Mercredi, Rocky Trottier, William LeCaine, Ted Nolan and Jason Simon. On Saturday, Hodgson took part in card signing session at All In Sports Den in Fort McMurray, Alta., where he resides.
Hodgson believes the card set will inspire Indigenous youth to chase big dreams when it comes to playing hockey. He hopes it will give reassurance to current Indigenous NHL players like Connor Dewar, Calen Addison, Ethan Bear, Zach Whitecloud and T.J. Oshie that they are following a journey that others have successfully taken.
Looking back when he was growing up, Hodgson remembers that players’ backgrounds weren’t really publicized for any player. Hodgson thinks that is something worth mentioning in a passing type way during a television broadcast, which he believes is done really well in current day broadcasts of NHL games.
In his younger years, Hodgson said it would have been a big deal had he been more aware at that time that players like Reggie Leach and Bryan Trottier were Indigenous. He also thought it would have been great had there been more mentions that his former Raiders linemate Dave Pasin was Italian and Wayne Gretzky was Ukrainian, and that would have been positively impactful for children in those cultures.
“I wish they would have said more things like that,” said Hodgson. “I grew up just watching hockey, and all I see are guys.
“You don’t really know their background, where they’re from, who they are or stuff like that. Now, you get more in depth with the players. You get to see their backgrounds more and who they are and where they are from type of thing. I think that is really cool.”
The hockey card release had Hodgson reflecting on his rookie NHL season with the Maple Leafs. He had great memories hanging out with fellow youngsters at the time in Wendel Clark, Russ Courtnall, Jim Benning and Gary Nylund.
Hodgson said the Maple Leafs back then had a lot of good young players and the list also included Al Iafrate, Steve Thomas, Gary Leeman and Ken Wregget. He added that veterans like Rick Vaive were still young enough that they had many seasons to still look forward to. Hodgson said he wondered how good that group would have been had they been left alone and kept together.
Of course, this was still in the time the Maple Leafs were owned by the late eccentric Harold Ballard, who lived at Maple Leaf Gardens at that time right through to his passing in 1990. Ballard could change his mind about how he felt about things in an instant and was notorious for being unpredictable his love of money and tearing apart a Maple Leafs roster just when it seemed the club had a good thing going.
Hodgson had strong recollection of his one lengthy encounter during his rookie season with Ballard and remember not being sure at first what he was going to be in for.
“I’m in the dressing room and he (Ballard) comes in and he says, ‘Son, get dressed and meet me at my limo,’” said Hodgson. “His limo is parked right underneath the stands right by the Zamboni, because he lived in there (at Maple Leaf Gardens) right in the bunker.
“I was like, ‘Ok. Whatever.’ I don’t know what is going on. I just go out to the limo, and he is there.”
Ballard told Hodgson to get in the limo, and they both got in the limo and started away on a trip.
“We’re just driving down Yonge Street in Toronto,” said Hodgson. “We’re talking, talking and talking.
“I’m like, ‘Mr. Ballard, where are we going?’ He goes, ‘Oh. I’m taking you to my barber.’”
Hodgson said he got a really great haircut from Ballard’s personal barber.
“I thought that was kind of cool,” said Hodgson, who ultimately finished his rookie season with the Maple Leafs AHL affiliate at the time the St. Catharines Saints. “I thought that was kind of neat, so we just talked and talked and talked in his limo for awhile.
“He walked me right into his barber and told him who I was and all that stuff. He said, ‘You guys take care of this guy now for me.’ I thought that was pretty cool.
“Actually, that was kind of my one and only interactions I’ve ever had with Harold like that.”
While he enjoyed his experiences in the NHL, Hodgson said he will always have a great love for his time in Prince Albert playing for the Raiders. He was the WHL rookie of the year in 1982-83 and finished off as the CHL player of the year and MVP of the Memorial Cup tournament, when the Raiders won the CHL’s biggest prize in 1984-85.
Hodgson thought the Raiders had the best group of guys during his playing days and the upward journey of going 16-55-1 in 1982-83 to 41-29-2 in 1983-84 and 58-11-2 in the 1984-85 WHL and Memorial Cup title winning season was incredible.
“I think we had a special bond like you hear almost every championship team kind of say that,” said Hodgson. “Even before that, even in our 16-win season, my rookie year, our first year in the league, the Raider tradition was being instilled, hammered into us right off the bat.
“We thrived on it. It was great. To be a Raider is something I still think is so, so special in my heart.
“It is even more special than being a Leaf to me to be a Raider, those three years, the bonding that you go through with those guys.”
Hodgson views iconic Raiders head coach and general manager Terry Simpson as a second father. Playing under Simpson’s guidance, Hodgson set numerous Raiders club records that still stand to this day including most career goals (188), assists (305) and points (493) collected playing 202 career regular season contests.
Of course, the top memory was winning the Memorial Cup in 1985 downing the host Shawinigan Cataracts 6-1 in the title game of the CHL championship tournament.
“I can’t even describe that feeling,” said Hodgson, who was the Raiders captain in 1984-85. “It is like wrapping up three years into one day like the three years that we spent in Prince Albert there from the start to that Cup.
“It was indescribable, because we had every emotion probably hammered into us. That first year was really, really tough being a young guy and getting beat soundly every game. We played Saskatoon 12 times that year and we got beat 12 times and not just beat on the scoreboard, but beat up.
“There were some hard knocks there, but we all believed that we could eventually maybe win a Cup or go to the Cup. We got there, and we ended up winning it. It was just a culmination of those three hard, hard years of shooting for something and achieving something all together I think.”
Rookie card extra special for Raider legend