In 11 years, Curtis Hodgson has yet to call in sick to work, so to speak. Sure the games are only once or twice a week, but in a sport where hacking and whacking an opponent while jostling for position in front of the net is par for the course, Hodgson has proven to be as durable as they come. Since entering the National Lacrosse League, the Vancouver Stealth captain has missed one game.
Even more impressive was that in that particular game — the first game of the 2010 season — Hodgson wasn’t even injured; it was a coaching decision to make him a healthy scratch for that night’s contest.
Not many competitors like being told they will not be playing and Hodgson wasn’t some fresh-faced rookie either, still finding his way in the league. Until that point, he had played in all 80 games over the course of his first five seasons.
“One of the things (former Stealth coach) Chris Hall was known for was pushing his players,” Hodgson said. “I always told ‘CH’ that was the best thing he could have done for me. He basically challenged me to be better. The conversation we had was basically, ‘play so I can’t take you out.'”
Hodgson credits the coach — who stepped down after the 2014 season and passed away in December from cancer — for much of the success in his career.
“I always felt he was in my ear pushing me and it is a credit to him (that I am) an older guy and still playing in the league,” Hodgson said. “I learned so much from him about being a professional and being prepared each week and not resting on my laurels.
“(The healthy scratch) was a springboard in my career, a turning point, to be honest.”
Since that healthy scratch, Hodgson has played in 98 straight games — 107 with playoffs — and is the Stealth franchise’s all-time leader in games played.
Or as Hodgson calls it, “the all-time old guy.”
“When I was 21, if you told me I got to play a game in the NLL, I would have said that is a dream come true,” he admitted.
Hodgson was drafted by the Vancouver Ravens franchise in the fourth round of the 2001 NLL Draft, but injuries kept him out of the lineup those first couple of years.
Hodgson may have lacked NLL experience, but Stealth general manager Doug Locker — who was the team’s assistant GM at the time — coveted the right-handed defenseman who had a stellar junior career with the Burnaby Lakers with a couple of Minto Cups (Canadian junior A championships) on his resume.
“He was a guy we had a lot of respect for, watching him play junior,” Locker said. “He was a guy that we thought would help jumpstart the franchise defensively and that turned out to be a pretty good move for us.
“He is so steady, is such a good leader and works so hard. It is hard to imagine the Stealth without him.”
While most players would love the opportunity to play for their hometown team, Hodgson — who is from Burnaby — had no problem leaving the Lower Mainland for the Stealth franchise then-located in California.
“I was sold on the chance to get an opportunity to play. At the time, Vancouver was a really veteran team,” Hodgson said. “Looking back, part of the reason I have had success is because I have played with a lot of great veteran players who helped me out.”
Is Hodgson surprised he is still going strong at age 33, as the elder statesman of a team whose average age is almost 26 years old?
“I think one of the reasons I am still playing is that over the years, I have had a lot of great coaches and a lot of players that push you,” he said. “Honestly, the big thing is the league has gotten more athletic and they have cleaned up the game in terms of making it a goal scorer’s league and I think the two reasons I have been successful are as you get older, you get smarter and try to learn as much as you can every year and get better. And the other truth of it is the work you have to put in, push yourself physically.”
He also credits changes to his off the floor routine which he made four or five years ago.
“It is a full time commitment in terms of off-season training, I play in the summer which also keeps me in shape and keeps my mind in it. It is doing all the things off the court to allow yourself to be successful on the floor.
Hodgson also relishes the role of being a teacher to his younger teammates. Being a teacher on the floor should come as little surprise considering his day job is as a high school teacher and athletic director at Burnaby’s Byrne Creek Secondary.
“I think from a teaching standpoint one of the reasons I have been able to play for a long time is I have always been open to learning and to get better,” he said. “I think I model that to guys now. A teacher doesn’t have everything figured out either, but it is engaging guys in those types of conversations. We are trying to learn, we are trying to get better.
“And I think it is the same in school, building relationships with people, engaging them with conversations and trying to mentor and lead by example.”
He also continues to give back to the game at the grassroots level. Earlier this season, he was named the director of the Stealth Lacrosse Academy and its Junior Stealth programs.
“He brings the highest level of integrity to our program,” Locker said. “His teaching, program management, coaching experience, and thorough understanding of the way the game is played today make him the perfect leader to serve as our director.”
“As an educator and team captain I have a strong passion for teaching and mentoring players as well as growing the game of lacrosse,” Hodgson said. “I’ve worked closely with the program over the last couple of years and look forward to building and contributing to the Academy.”
By Gary Ahuja (@VanStealthBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Garrett James.