Charlie Hodge almost seemed born to play goal.
Growing up in the 1930's and 1940's in Lachine, Quebec, Charlie took an early interest in the game on ice. But his father, John, knew he was too small - he would grow to be only 5'6" and 150lbs - to be an effective forward or defenseman. So he encouraged Charlie to take to the nets. John built a net in the basement and would fire countless tennis balls at his on. The hard work paid off, as Charlie Hodge became one of the best goaltending prospects in all of Canada. He would sign on with the Montreal Canadiens organization and starred with the Jr. Canadians, leading them to the Memorial Cup in 1950.
John would teach Charlie to be a stand-up goalie.
"Because of my size, I couldn't afford to go down. (Montreal coach) Toe Blake used to holler, 'Get up! Get up! every time you went down."
Hodge would turn professional in 1953, and would dominate the minor leagues. Unfortunately for Hodge and other goalies like him, most famously Johnny Bower, the NHL standard practice in those days was still to carry one goalie, and there was only 6 NHL teams. Big league jobs were hard to come by, especially when Jacques Plante was the incumbent in Montreal. For the next 10 years Hodge was rarely given a shot at the NHL. The worst part was his father John did not live long enough to see Charlie persevere into a NHL goaltender.
His pro debut was storybook to say the least. He led the IHL with 10 shutouts and a 2.34 goals against average for the Cincinnati Mohawks and led them to the IHL championship. He also played for Buffalo of the AHL (3 games) that year.
When Montreal Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante was injured in 1954-55, Hodge was called up and did well in the 14 games as his replacement, and was even tried in the playoffs.
He was sent to the minors again for two seasons before Plante was again out of action in 1957-58, and Hodge was again sharp in 12 games for the Habs. Hodge would accompany team but not play in the playoffs, but still got his name on the Stanley Cup. It was the first of 4 engravings for Hodge.
When Plante was stricken with a case of boils late in 1958-59, Claude Pronovost and Claude Cyr were not the answer and Hodge was called up from the Montreal Royals to do the goaltending.
In 1959-60 Hodge played in exactly 1 game with the Canadiens all year, but that was enough to get his name on the Stanley Cup a second time. Rules for minimum number of games played were not in existence back then.
In 1960-61 Plante was injured again and Hodge took over in goal. He played so well that some writers suggested that Plante may have trouble displacing him. The Habs finished first that year and Hodge made a substantial contribution. In 30 games he was 18-8-4 with 4 shutouts and 2.47 GAA in his first real stint in the NHL.
Despite his successes, he then played two years for the Quebec Aces of the QHL. Hodge finally got his break in 1963-64 when Gump Worsley, who had been obtained for Plante, badly pulled a hamstring muscle. Hodge was called upon to take over the net. There was no getting Hodge out once he got in, as he had a great year, finishing 33-18-11 with a 2.26 goals against average and led the NHL with 8 shutouts and won the Vezina Trophy. This was unquestionably Hodge's moment of glory as he would never quite recapture this moment when he was exceptional.
He made the second all-star team the next year, but lost his starting job to Worsley who shined in the Stanley Cup playoffs as Montreal won their first Stanley Cup since 1960. In 1965-66, Hodge was again the backup for an even sharper Worsley as they shared the Vezina Trophy. Worsley was in the running for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP as the Canadiens won their second straight Stanley Cup.
Worsley and Hodge had an interesting relationship. Hodge's unofficial nickname was "Twitchy", tagged on him by an irritated Gump Worsley. At first, Hodge and Worsley were roommates on the Canadiens and Hodge had a habit of changing the channel every time a commercial came on when the two goalers watched TV in their hotel room. Worsley explained in his autobiography THEY CALL ME GUMP: "Every time a commercial came on he would change the channel. When a commercial came on during that show, the switch again would be made. You never got to see a whole show with Charlie running the set. I finally lost patience with him and raised so much hell that the Canadiens agreed never to put us together again."
Hodge played most of the 1966-67 season when Worsley was hurt but a young phenom named Rogie Vachon and Worsley handled the playoffs.
In 1967-68, the NHL expanded to include six new teams and the California Seals drafted the experienced and well travelled Hodge. Hodge played admirably, keeping the Seals from being a total disaster. He posted a very respectable 13-29-13 record with 3 shutouts and 2.86 GAA
The following two years Hodge would split between Oakland and the WHL Vancouver Canucks. Hodge would fall in love with the city of Vancouver, so it was a dream come true when the NHL expanded in 1970-71 to include the Vancouver Canucks. Hodge was drafted by the Canucks. He had a good year with a weak club as he won 15 games, lost 13 and tied 5.
He then retired after his only season with the Canucks, but the 37 year old didn't really want to. The Canucks and Hodge had a nasty contract dispute. A veteran Hodge refused to go to training camp without a contract, and feeling jilted and humiliated, he opted to retire a year earlier than he had intended.
"That's the only point that really bothers me about my hockey career."
Hodge would remain in British Columbia's Lower Mainland, and took up a job scouting for the Winnipeg Jets and Pittsburgh Penguins.
Charlie Hodge almost seemed born to play goal.