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Retired Hodge keeps his hand in Winterhawks

Playing golf takes precedent these days for former coach, GM
by:  KEN HODGE

Retirement has been easy for Ken Hodge, in one respect. He spends almost every day at Columbia Edgewater Country Club, where he either plays golf or hits balls at the driving range.

'I have to cut the calluses off my hands on a regular basis,' says Hodge, the former longtime general manager and coach of the Portland Winterhawks.

He's serious.

'I just play golf. Every day.'

But as the Winterhawks play Kootenay for the Western Hockey League championship and a berth in the Memorial Cup tournament, Hodge remains active with the team.

When owner Bill Gallacher took over in October 2008 and made Mike Johnston his general manager and coach, he made a point to keep the most prominent figure in the organization on board, and the 64-year-old Hodge serves as a consultant while enjoying the benefits of being retired.

He's easing into retirement, while he stands willing to do whatever Johnston asks of him. Hodge says he misses being more heavily involved. But it is what it is, and 'I feel very good,' he says, about how the Winterhawks have returned to the upper echelon among WHL organizations.

Gallacher, he says, 'is a wonderful owner, and he's been very good to me,' and Johnston 'is a very, very good teacher. I have tremendous respect for him. I don't agree with everything he says or does, and he doesn't agree with everything I think. It's always helps to have other ideas brought forward. … Mike is open. He's a good listener.'

Says Johnston: 'Ken has been really good to me over the time I've been here.'

Hodge attends games and also scouts and works as the Winterhawks' representative at WHL scheduling meetings.

Johnston likes having such a recognized figure and a sage in the junior hockey world around.

It's a far cry from when Hodge ruled the roost, as coach along with then-owner/GM Brian Shaw from 1976 to 1993, and then as GM from then through the early parts of the 2008-09 season (although his power diminished somewhat in the final two years under then-owner Jim Goldsmith).

'I love the Winterhawks,' Hodge says.

It was Hodge and others, including Matt Bardsley, current director of hockey operations, who engineered the bantam drafts of 2006, 2007 and 2008 that landed Hawk players Riley Boychuk, Brett Ponich, Brad Ross, Joe Morrow, Keith Hamilton, Taylor Peters, Ryan Johansen, Ty Rattie, Tyler Wotherspoon and Seth Swenson.

With a solid owner and a good management situation, the Hawks have been able to recruit strong players, such as Johansen, Taylor Aronson and Euros Nino Niederreiter and Sven Bartschi.

Even through the bad years under Goldsmith and his co-owners, who preceded Gallacher, Hodge desired to return the Winterhawks to their gloried status in the WHL. And it has happened.

Hodge would still like to see the Winterhawks become more attractive on the Portland sports landscape and get some resolution in the fate of their home, Memorial Coliseum. But things are headed in the right direction.

Meanwhile, retirement has been a challenge, he says.

'You put in 12 to 14 hours each day, seven days a week for your life …,' he says, of his years in hockey. 'When that's over, what do you do? You've got to fill the time and space. People need to be prepared for retirement, and I never was.'

He has three grown daughters - Melanie, who is studying dentistry; Rachel, who is working to become a nurse; Megan, who is in modeling. He has a longtime girlfriend. He has friends who have invited him to spend time with them in Palm Desert, Calif., and Phoenix.

But Hodge still likes being around hockey, and working. And he doesn't really want to travel.

'Half the time I spent working I was traveling, and you get so tired of packing and unpacking, you miss things like soccer games and birthdays …,' he says. 'I don't look forward to traveling.'

In March 2010, the WHL honored Hodge with the Governors Award, given to the individual who, through outstanding service as a builder of the league and achievements in the game, has contributed to the growth and development of the WHL.

Hodge still holds the WHL record for most regular-season coaching victories (742) and playoff wins (101). The Winterhawks played in the Memorial Cup in 1982 and 1983, winning in '83, and, as GM, he helped built the 1997-98 Cup championship team.

Hodge says other teams inquired about hiring him, but 'I let everybody know I wasn't moving. I don't want to leave the Portland community.'

Hodge laments how the Winterhawks fell apart in the Goldsmith years, especially with the departure of several longtime employees. He hated to see the termination of coach Mike Williamson - 'he was part of the carnage of that group, and it was unfortunate,' Hodge says - and the resignation of longtime radio announcer and publicist Dean Vrooman. 'That was one of the sad days,' Hodge says. 'I was the only one trying to talk him into staying.'

But the regime change with Gallacher has been great for the Winterhawks. And Hodge remains part of it.