After an unlikely comeback from a mysterious illness, former NHLer Cody Hodgson is retiring again

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – On the way home after the game, Cody Hodgson called his father.

It was one of those familiar conversations between a hockey player at any level, from peewee to pro, and their father. A chat focused on the game.

What did you see with that scoring opportunity?

What would you do differently here?

How did you feel in that situation?

It was a hard-won slice of normality for Cody Hodgson, who we profiled ourselves to The Athletics earlier this year.

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A mysterious illness ended his promising NHL career. Eight years later, hope and a comeback

Once a top talent and top-line NHL center, Hodgson’s hockey career was cut short by a genetic condition called malignant hyperthermia. Hodgson’s disease causes muscle tears and organ damage, a direct result of overexertion and heat sensitivity. It abruptly ended his career in 2016 and, understandably, kept Hodgson out of professional hockey for eight years.

However, over the past twelve months, Hodgson had found a way to control his medication dosage and put himself through physical strain again. He dropped 30 pounds. For months he trained with top trainer Brad Wheeler, who trains a constellation of NHL stars. He signed a tryout contract with the Nashville Predators’ AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, and went on to succeed beyond anyone’s wildest dreams with one of the league’s top teams, scoring five goals in his first six games.

These moments in the car post game, talking to your dad, these are the kind of moments that Hodgson hadn’t been able to enjoy over the last eight years when he wasn’t in the game. They are there with the thrill of bringing the home crowd to their feet, or calming the crowd on the road. The greasy postgame pizza after road games. That incomparable thrill that comes from competing, romping on the ice with a linemate and just playing hockey.

This evening Hodgson planned to take it all in. He had already made his decision.

Thirteen AHL games into an incredible comeback story eight years in the making, Hodgson had seen what he needed to see. He had proven what he had to prove, at least to himself, and that was all that mattered.

And the symptoms of his malignant hyperthermia had returned. Outside of his normal routine, in the unstructured environment of life as a professional player, micro-tears in the muscles in his back and neck began to build up again. The heat sensitivity made it all worse. He was back at work after a long absence from competition and training. At one point he returned home from training to find he couldn’t get himself out of his car.

That was all secondary at this point. In this moment he was at peace.

“We were talking about the game and I said, ‘I’m ready,’” Hodgson said The Athletics over lunch last weekend. “I just knew something was going on. I just didn’t feel well while skating and I have all these symptoms.

“So my dad said, ‘Okay, well… leave the advice alone!'”

For Hodgson, the unlikely extension of his professional career came to an end as his symptoms resurfaced. In close consultation with specialists at the University of Toronto, Hodgson had mapped out a narrow path to overcome his disease under the right circumstances.

Breathing exercises and ice baths allowed him to maintain peak levels of athletic performance for a period of about eight months. He got himself into the kind of shape that allows an athlete to play professional hockey at a high level. He performed well in an extremely difficult competition and still had that natural nose for the net as a goalscorer, which at one point, when he was a much younger man, made him a historic player for the Canadian U20 national team and a top player . 10 NHL draft pick.

A first-round pick selected by the Canucks in 2008, Hodgson was once one of the NHL’s brightest young stars. (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

More than that, Hodgson has made an impact on the Admirals organization. On a team full of top draft picks and young talent, the Admirals welcomed Hodgson and kept him around partly because he was producing, and partly because of his obvious passion for the game.

The club came to appreciate some of the old-fashioned toughness that Hodgson showed while playing through injury on his return – specifically a broken rib that Hodgson suffered in his first game back. It was an injury suffered in part because Hodgson played professional hockey with off-the-shelf equipment.

Hodgson was an additional contributor in Milwaukee, but more than that, the team saw him as a good model for their younger players.

In a more controlled environment at home, Hodgson’s routine allowed him to stay on this narrow path – where he didn’t take too many medications to suffer side effects, but was free of the usual debilitating symptoms of malignant hyperthermia – but the symptoms began to to disappear. back when the Admirals headed to the Western Conference to play teams in warmer climates like San Diego and Denver.

In the first match of the trip, Hodgson continued his torrid pace, recording a goal and an assist in San Diego. Then the symptoms returned.

“The heat sensitivity was overloading me, especially without access to my normal routine,” Hodgson said, demonstratively grabbing the back of his neck in the humidity of a 90-degree day in Nashville. “I notice even now, because of the heat, that I feel my neck cramping.”

On the flight back to Milwaukee after the road trip, Hodgson noticed something was wrong. He felt uncomfortable and felt some of the familiar symptoms that had undermined his ability to perform eight years ago. It was mid-March and Hodgson would not appear in another professional game against the Admirals until four weeks later.

In the first period of his next match, Hodgson made the decision.

“I knew in the first period that this would be my last match,” Hodgson said. “I had heating pads all over my body and over my hands. It was too much. I knew I was done. I knew I couldn’t go any further.

“I told my winger Egor Afanasyev, and we have a lot of chemistry, I like playing with him. He trapped me a few times, I trapped him a few times. So then he starts saying, ‘Don’t stop!’ to me between shifts,” Hodgson said with a laugh. “It was nice to have a good match, but my back was tightening and I was super hot, my neck was tight and I started to run. It’s just not a recipe for playing professional hockey.”

There was a final decision for Hodgson that night, and he absorbed it. Throughout the match he took the time to absorb the crowd.

“You can’t play in front of thousands of people in the men’s league,” he said.

Despite sticking to a strict diet, he enjoyed a slice of postgame pizza. He thanked Admirals general manager Scott Nichol for the opportunity to board the bus back to Milwaukee. And he called his father to discuss the game on the way home.

“I just tried to enjoy it,” Hodgson said. “Because I didn’t get it the first time.

“A lot of guys go into their last game knowing it’s their last game, and I didn’t understand that. I didn’t feel like I could really enjoy playing professional hockey.

“The last time I had to stop, I had to stop abruptly. I didn’t know what was going on at the time. I had a lot more stress, the pressure you put on yourself, the pressure from the fans and the coaches. This time I knew it, and I could really let it sink in.”

While Hodgson’s malignant hyperthermia triggered his comeback attempt and was aborted for personal safety reasons, his attempt to get back to this point was remarkable. He had returned to professional hockey and was successful until his disorder reappeared.

“If I came back and couldn’t touch the puck, I mean, it would have been fine, a lot of people expected that,” Hodgson said.

“A lot of my good friends, especially the ones who play professional hockey – I mean, taking six months off is a long time in this sport. Taking a year off is incredibly difficult. Take eight years? My friends were worried about me. Their response was: ‘Don’t hurt yourself!’ So I think a lot of them didn’t think I could play more than a few games, let alone produce at the level I could when I was feeling good.”

There is closure for Hodgson that he has been able to execute. That his fate was ultimately sealed by a disorder beyond his control, rather than having to do with his will, skill level or abilities as a hockey player.

“I promised myself that if I ever felt (healthy) enough, I would try no matter when it happened, even if it was eight years later,” Hodgson said. “Now I know. I just can’t do it, so I’m fine. I’m at peace with it, more than ever in the last eight years.

“I answered the question that I could play again. Maybe someone else would look at it objectively and conclude something different, but I thought I could keep up with the kids!”

When The Athletics After catching up with Hodgson, he was in Nashville finalizing some business in preparation for a full-time move to Toronto to be closer to his family. As he thinks about the future, he is at peace with the end of his hockey career. And he’s excited about what he learned in launching his comeback attempt and how it will shape his lifestyle going forward.

“It keeps me from having to be afraid,” Hodgson said. “When I first finished, they told me not to run and to avoid strenuous, long activities and high temperatures. Now I know I can do those things and still be okay.

“My lifestyle is so much better now. I have a routine where I can wake up in the morning and do the breathing exercises, take a cold bath, do some pilates and go for a run. In the past I would have been terrified of that. So I tried to stay as healthy as possible, but I didn’t think it would be feasible for me to be in shape and enjoy physical activity like I could as a child.”

Hodgson is also proud of the response from families and other people managing their malignant hyperthermia, or RYR-1 disorder, from whom he has heard as news of his comeback attempt spread awareness of the condition.

“I came back because I wanted to play,” Hodgson said, “but what was nice was that when I went public, I got countless calls from families asking how I could function with and manage the disorder. . I think that’s really positive.

“When people call me and ask for advice, all I say is, ‘Don’t stop thinking it’s possible to return to a normal routine.’ It may not be exactly how I do it, with the breathing exercises and the ice baths or different types of medications, but find what works for you and don’t resign yourself to the idea that it has to stay that way forever. Keep working until you find a solution.”

(Photo: Morry Gash / AP Photo)