AUSTIN — Calm and confident.
Those are the two words that come up most often when Hudson Hodges talks about entering his second season in the North American Hockey League.
Those words come up just as often when Austin Bruins head coach Steve Howard speaks about his veteran goalie.
“He’s a second-year guy now,” Howard said. “He knows when he has to swallow pucks and get a faceoff, versus some of those times when a goalie gets scrambly and your team has to chase the puck in its own end for 35-40 seconds.
“He has the ability to just calm things down and make it look easy.”
Don’t confuse Hodges’ calm demeanor with weakness, though. The Moorhead native and 2020 winner of the Frank Brimsek Award (given annually to the top senior goaltender in Minnesota boys high school hockey) is a competitor.
He not only wants to win and help the Bruins return to the NAHL playoffs for the first time since 2019, he wants to be The Guy in goal for Austin. The Bruins open their season Wednesday at the NAHL Showcase in Blaine, when they face the Wichita Falls (Texas) Warriors at 5:15 p.m.
“I do want to grab it and take it and be the guy,” Hodges said in regards to being the Bruins’ No. 1 goalie, “but you have to work hard in practice and be sharp in games. That’s what really matters.
“You have to earn it.”
Earning ice time has never been an issue for Hodges, the 6-foot-2, 175-pound netminder who cut his hockey teeth playing with and against some of the best players and teams the state has to offer.
He backstopped Moorhead High to a Class AA state tournament appearance as a senior in the spring of 2020, a season in which he went 19-7-1 with a 2.08 goals-against average, a .922 save percentage and four shutouts. That included victories against such perennial powers as Edina, Lakeville North, Eden Prairie, Roseau and Grand Rapids.
“It was some of the most fun I’ve ever had. Growing up, I played with the same group of 13-14 guys, so we were all seniors at the same time,” Hodges said. “Moorhead is a really special place to grow up and play hockey.
“We always tried to play a tough schedule — the Eden Prairies and Edinas. It helped a lot playing high school hockey at that really high level and speed. It made the transition to coming here a little easier.”
Hodges’ rookie season in the NAHL was much like his team’s season, a bit up and down. The Bruins started slowly last season, spent more than a month on the road due to ice arenas in Minnesota being shut during the COVID-19 pandemic, then made a late push for a playoff spot, only to come up two points shy of qualifying for the postseason.
Hodges finished the season 9-9-2, with a 2.92 GAA and an .899 save percentage. He started nine of the team’s final 17 games and went 6-1-2 in those starts. His progression reminded his coach of another former Bruins goalie who won the Brimsek and is now playing Division I college hockey.
“I see a lot of Alex Schilling in (Hodges),” Howard said. “They were both Minnesota goalies of the year in high school hockey and they were both OK their first years here.
“Hudson was a multi-sport athlete growing up and now he gets to hone in n hockey and being a goaltender. He’s getting more focused — more mentally focused. Alex’s second year here he came in and was the man in goal for us and he ran with it. … Hudson understands he has to win games in order to stay in the net.”
Hodges said he learned a great deal by watching Tyler Shea last season. Shea was the Bruins’ No. 1 goalie for a majority of the season and is opening this season on the roster of the Madison Capitols of the USHL.
“I’m going to try to be a leader for the younger guys,” Hodges said, “bring that intensity to practice every day and try to lead by example.”
• • • • •
What: North American Hockey League Showcase
Where: Super Rink, Blaine
Austin Bruins schedule: Wednesday, vs. Wichita Falls, 5:15 p.m.; Thursday, vs. Fairbanks, 5:15 p.m.; Friday, vs. New Jersey, 11:15 a.m.; Saturday, vs. Minnesota Magicians, 5:45 p.m.