By Bill Hoppe
BUFFALO — Nine days after the Sabres acquired center Cody Hodgson from the Vancouver Canucks in a blockbuster deal at the NHL trade deadline, the 22-year-old rookie finally skated on the First Niagara Center ice Wednesday.
Hodgson had been experiencing a whirlwind acclimation to his new team on the road, and his head hasn’t stopped spinning.
“Has it been that long, really?” Hodgson said Wednesday morning inside the FNC when informed the trade was nine days ago. “I was on the road most of February. I’ve just been trying to get a little bit more settled down. I’ll have a chance hopefully in the next week to settle down and think about things.”
Hodgson wore his blue No. 19 home jersey for the first time Wednesday in the Sabres’ 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.
He won’t be able to settle down for a bit, however. The Sabres flew to Boston late Wednesday and start a two-game trip tonight. Hodgson and the Sabres just finished a four-game western swing.
Hodgson’s played 13 of his last 17 games on the road. Even meeting up with the Sabres was difficult last week.
First, Hodgson flew from Phoenix to Buffalo, underwent a physical and then jetted back across the country and played with the Sabres last Wednesday in Anaheim before he had even fully practiced.
Four days after the trade, he returned to Vancouver, where he was dogged with questions about rumors he requested a trade and had an icy relationship with the Canucks.
Has Hodgson even had a couple of hours to himself as a Sabre?
“No. I don’t think so. I can’t remember,” he said. “I’ve … been figuring out stuff, looking after stuff, canceling car insurance, house payments. … It’s fun, though. It’s an exciting time. I’m happy to be here.”
The Sabres desperately needed a scoring pivot, even if it meant parting with prospect Zack Kassian.
So far, Hodgson’s pointless in five games between Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford, although Sabres coach Lindy Ruff seems pleased. Hodgson, who has 16 goals and 33 points in 68 games, has just one score in 13 games and two in 18.
“I think he’s a smart player,” Ruff said about Hodgson. “I think he’s played well in his own end. He’s made a lot of good plays. He sees the ice well. … I thought that line had good chemistry.”
Ruff added: “He’s got some good puck savvy, a strong skater, strong on his skates (and) a thicker body (6-feet, 185 pounds) that you don’t find them on the ice very often. And I think his play in his own end, I played him against top lines, and I like the way he played.”
Ennis played with Hodgson three years ago on Team Canada’s gold medal world junior championship team and likes the line’s make-up. Ennis and Stafford have a combined two goals and five points.
“Staff’s a shooter and a scorer,” Ennis said. “I’m pretty creative and quick. Cody’s kind of smart and well-rounded in all areas and can score, so we kind of mesh together nicely.”
Stafford called the trio’s first four games “awesome.”
“(It) finally feels as though we have a solid line with pretty good chemistry right off the bat, four games in,” he said. “We’ve been making some plays. I feel as though we can be a threat out there.”
Stafford said “it’s kind of funny seeing 19 out there, a right-handed 19.”
“Sometimes I see Tim Connolly,” he said about the former Sabres center, now in Toronto. “If you think about it, a right-handed natural centerman, we haven’t had one all year.”
Sabres goalie Ryan Miller will receive some rest soon following his 21st straight appearance and 10th consecutive start Wednesday, Ruff said.
With another game tonight and four in seven days, rookie backup Jhonas Enroth should receive a rare nod.
Ruff and Miller met Wednesday morning and “put a plan in place.”
“He’s going to need a game (off) here or there,” Ruff said. “The schedule’s been demanding. I think the fact that we took a couple days on the road trip where we didn’t put the equipment on (helps).
“Talking to him this morning, he felt a lot pressure. We got some back-to-back games that Jhonas will have to play. It’s going to be demanding on us.”
Enroth’s 1-9-2 in his last 12 decisions and hasn’t won since Nov. 26. He got pulled from his last start Feb. 16 in Philadelphia.
Flu-like symptoms sidelined defenseman Andrej Sekera, so Alexander Sulzer, acquired in the Hodgson trade, played his second game. Sulzer skated beside Christian Ehrhoff again.
“(He’s) a good depth defenseman, mobile, a good puck mover,” Ruff said about Sulzer.
The Sabres also scratched forwards Jochen Hecht and Cody McCormick (concussions).
Ruff, who broke three ribs last month during a scary practice collision, has been running sessions on the ice again.