PENTICTON, B.C. – About 15 years in age and around 829 NHL games separate Brendan Morrison and Cody Hodgson.
The two centres, who are at opposite ends of their careers, are both attending the Vancouver Canucks training camp. For different reasons, both are longshots to start the season with the team.
Morrison, 35, came to camp without a contract and is on a professional tryout. He’s looking for one last hurrah in the city where he enjoyed his most hockey success.
“They want to see if I can still skate,” Morrison said with a shrug after Sunday’s practice at the South Okanagan Events Centre. “Yes, I can still skate at a high level and a good pace.
“That’s what I have to prove I can do. They want to see if I can still play.”
Hodgson, 20, is a prize Canuck prospect who missed most of last season in junior with a back injury. The back remains a concern so he’s practising with a group doing more finesse drills and light contact.
“We stepped it up another level today,” said Hodgson. “It was a little more intense, more battle drills were brought in. I felt good.”
Hodgson doesn’t know when he can bring practising with the main group of players, or if he will dress for any of the Canuck exhibition games. If he doesn’t play in the pre-season, Hodgson will likely start the year with Vancouver’s AHL farm team in Winnipeg.
“The goal is to progress here,” Hodgson said.
“I’d like to get going here soon and we’ll just have to go through the necessary steps.”
Morrison, a native of Pitt Meadows, B.C., on the outskirts of Vancouver, has no room for error. If he doesn’t earn a spot on the Canucks’ roster, his hockey career is likely over.
“It’s uncharted waters,” said Morrison, who played for the Washington Capitals last season after spending seven years in Vancouver. “I didn’t anticipate being in this situation.
“There is a little greater sense of urgency knowing you don’t have a contract in place and you are trying to earn a contract. I feel I do have good credentials coming in. But in this business, it’s what have you done for me lately?”
Head coach Alain Vigneault said Morrison has skated well during camp, but the true test will come when the Canucks play their exhibition games.
“Right now he is working extremely hard,” said Vigneault. “We’ll see what he does in the future.”
Hodgson wants to show the Canucks they didn’t make a mistake when they selected him 10th overall in the 2008 draft.
“It’s been a steady progression since the summer,” said the Markham, Ont., native. ”I have been working hard and doing lots of rehab.”
Hodgson played his junior hockey with the OHL Brampton Battalion where he was named the CHL player of the year in 2009. He also led Canada to a gold medal at the 2009 world junior championships where he was the tournament’s leading scorer.
His back problems began while dryland training last July. At first doctors found a herniated disc. Later a torn muscle was discovered.
The confusion over the injuries, and how to treat them, resulted in Hodgson playing only 24 games with Brampton last year. There also was speculation a rift had grown between Hodgson and the Canucks, something he is quick to deny.
“It (the relationship) has been good,” said Hodgson. “We’be been in constant communication and have had many meetings.
“I trust the medical staff and training staff here.”
Hodgson has great vision on the ice and a scoring touch around the net. There are concerns about his size (six feet, 188 pounds) and skating ability.
So far coach Alain Vigneault is happy with what Hodgson has shown at camp.
“He’s looked really good,” Vigneault said. “He had a lot of jump out there. That’s real positive.”
Even if Hodgson begins the year in Winnipeg, it’s likely he would be called up to the Canucks sometime during the season and given a chance to perform against NHL talent.
At five foot 11 and 185 pounds, Morrison has both size and age working against him. He hopes to compensate with experience and the flexibility to take a regular shift on forward, or play on the power play and kill penalties.
During camp Morrison has played on line with Daniel Sedin and Victor Oreskovich, the right-winger from Whitby, Ont., who came to Vancouver in the deal that brought defenceman Keith Ballard from Florida.
Numbers could work against Morrison. The Canucks are already deep at centre with Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Manny Malhorta.
Henrik Sedin said the leadership Morrison brings to the dressing room would be a plus.
“He’s one of those guys that can step up any time of the season and guys are going to listen to him,” said Sedin.
Morrison’s best seasons in Vancouver came playing with Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi. Nicknamed the Westcoast Express, the line was a scoring machine.
Morrison left the Canucks as a free agent in 2008. He split that year between Anaheim and Dallas. Last season with Washington he had 12 goals and 30 assists in 74 games.
Morrison had hoped a team would offer him a contract this summer. When nothing came, he accepted the invitation to attend the Canucks’ camp.
If he makes Vancouver’s roster Morrison likely will be paid the NHL minimum salary of US$500,000. That’s far less than the US$1.5 million he earned last year in Washington.
Morrison has made it clear he has no interest in playing in Winnipeg.
“I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say I felt I would have a contract by now,” he said. “It hasn’t happened.”
Morrison has fond memories of playing in Vancouver. He believes the Canucks give him the best chance to win a Stanley Cup.
“The big reason I am here is I think this team has a really good chance to win,” Morrison said. “I believe (the Canucks) have the players to make a huge run.”
The Canucks break training camp Monday. The team will be split into two groups for a pair of exhibition games Tuesday against the Calgary Flames. One game will be played in Calgary and the other in Vancouver.