One for the Ages: Charlie Hodge’s 1970-71 NHL Season

The National Hockey League expanded by two teams in 1970, one of which was the Buffalo Sabres, while the other was out in western Canada—the Vancouver Canucks. For any NHL expansion team, strong goaltending is a must. A veteran netminder can stop the bleeding when facing a powerhouse, and can also steal a win that may otherwise have not been attainable.

The NHL’s newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights drafted 3-time Stanley Cup champion, Marc-Andre Fleury. Historically, the Florida Panthers had John Vanbiesbrouck, while the Los Angeles Kings brought in arguably the greatest goaltender of all time, Terry Sawchuk.

In the 1970 expansion draft the Sabres obtained “the artful dodger” Roger Crozier via a trade with the Detroit Red Wings and made him a cornerstone of the team. The Canucks opted to select a 37-year-old goalie from the Oakland Seals, one who had already played 12 seasons in the league. He played in three NHL All-Star Games, and was a Second Team All-Star selection in 1964. For one season Vancouver had a veteran “cornerstone” of their own in Charlie Hodge.

Previous Experience as an Expansion Team Goaltender

The Canucks’ selection of Hodge in the expansion draft was the second time the goalie had had such an experience. When the league expanded from the “Original Six” to an even dozen in 1967, Hodge was taken by the Oakland Seals. The Seals made him their first selection in the opening round when the new teams chose goalies. Hodge played 58 games for the expansion Seals for the 1967-68 season and remained with the franchise for the next two seasons.

Charlie Hodge was already a veteran of 12 NHL seasons when the Canucks took him in the 1970 expansion draft. (THW Archives)

During Hodge’s tenure with the Seals, he also spent a portion of the 1968-69 season with the WHL’s Vancouver Canucks, who were the precursor to the NHL version. The WHL Canucks consisted of numerous NHL veterans along with Hodge, including Andy Bathgate, Len Lunde and even Don Cherry. They were coached by the colorful Joe “The Crow” Crozier.

In Hodge’s brief tenure with the WHL Canucks he played brilliantly. In 13 regular season games, he had a 7-2-4 record with a 2.54 goals against average and a superb .925 save percentage. Hodge was even better in the playoffs. He played in all eight playoff games for the Canucks and was a perfect 8-0 as the team captured the WHL championship, the Lester Patrick Cup. Those eight playoff games included a shutout and 1.45 goals against.

Following that 1968-69 WHL championship, Hodge played one more year with the Seals. He played 14 games during the 1969-70 NHL season and with a 3-5-2 record with Oakland, while his younger counterpart Gary Smith assumed most of the duties for the Seals.

Hodge’s Previous Stanley Cup Success

Though Hodge had marginal success with the lowly Seals and the late WHL championship, the real reason that the NHL Canucks may have selected him was his experience.

Hodge may be the greatest backup goaltender in NHL history. With the Montreal Canadiens, he won six Stanley Cup championships in 1956, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1965 and 1966. However, in those first four championships Hodge played all of 15 regular season games while he served almost primarily as the backup to the great Jacques Plante. In the 1966 Cup run, he played 26 games compared to Hall of Famer Gump Worsley’s 51.

Charlie Hodge Canadiens
Charlie Hodge had won six Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens by the time he joined the expansion Vancouver Canucks. (THW Archives)

It was only during the Canadiens’ 1965 Stanley Cup victory that Hodge played the bulk of the games. He got the call in 52 games while Worsley served as his backup. He had a 26-16-10 record with three shutouts and a .905 save percentage. Hodge and Worsley split the playoff duties, including the 7-game Finals series against the Chicago Blackhawks when Worsley played in four games while Hodge played three.

There is no question though that Hodge’s longevity and Stanley Cup experience would be most lucrative for the Canucks. Expansion teams, especially in the 1970s NHL, had the decks stacked against them. The talent pool was incredibly limited and in order to avoid blowouts and low morale, a goaltender like Hodge added a calming presence in the most important position.

What Charlie Hodge Brought to the Expansion Canucks

Hodge was all the more important considering who the Canucks took with their top selection in the 1970 NHL amateur draft. While the Sabres won the lottery and immediately chose the coveted Gilbert Perreault, Vancouver chose a 19-year-old defenseman from Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec with the second pick. The Canucks hoped that Dale Tallon would be as important to their future as Perreault was to Buffalo’s.

A teenage defenseman like Tallon, who would not turn 20 until six games into the 1970-71 NHL season, needed the reassurance of a goalie nearly twice his age like Hodge, one who could bail him out if he made a mistake; give him a stick tap on the pants and say something like, “Don’t worry about it kid, I’ve got your back.” In retrospect, to have Hodge behind Tallon was a brilliant maneuver by the Canucks’ first ever GM Bud Poile.

Tallon was not the only one who benefited from Hodge’s presence. Canucks tough guy Barry Wilkins was only 23-years-old. Though a Stanley Cup champion, Gary Doak was only 24. John Hargeaves was all of 20. Those young defenders needed a safety net in an aged player like Hodge.

Tallon would have a successful rookie campaign, particularly in terms of offense. Playing in all 78 games, he recorded 14 goals and 42 assists.

Backstopping Vancouver to Early Success

Consider this: of the three goaltenders who suited up for the expansion Canucks, Hodge was the only one to post a winning record, even though one of the other goalies played the exact same number of games. In 35 appearances in their first NHL season, Hodge had a 15-13-5 record with a 3.42 goals against and a .892 save percentage.

One of his counterparts, Dunc Wilson, also played in 35 games. Wilson’s record that first year was 3-25-2 with a whopping 4.29 goals against and more of an average-at-best .880 save percentage. The third Canucks goalie, George Gardner, was 6-8-1 in 18 games.

Here’s a look at some of Hodge’s more memorable games from the 1970-71 NHL season:

Oct. 11, 1970: Hodge backstops the Canucks to their first victory in franchise history. On home ice in Vancouver, the Canucks defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-3. Hodge would make 16 saves off of 19 shots.

Oct. 18, 1970: Despite a 5-3 loss to the “Big, Bad Bruins” Hodge still made 34 saves while facing a Boston onslaught of 39 shots. Perhaps more noteworthy is the fact that he kept the great Bobby Orr off the score sheet. Orr’s 139 points in 78 games in 1970-71 were the finest point total of his NHL career but he did not notch a single one against Hodge.

Oct. 31, 1970: On Halloween the Canucks faced the Canadiens at the Montreal Forum. While Vancouver was trounced 6-3, Hodge faced 46 shots. His old teammate Jean Beliveau would beat him for a goal and an assist. Were it not for Hodge’s play though, the Habs would have hit double digits.

Nov. 20, 1970: The Canucks shelled the Los Angeles Kings 7-1 in one of their finest outpourings of their inaugural season. Hodge stopped 25 of 26 shots, and the rookie Tallon notched a goal and two assists.

Dec. 15, 1970: Though the Flyers’ Bobby Clarke got a shorthanded goal by him in the 3rd period, Hodge still turned aside 35 of 37 shots, including 18 saves in the 1st period alone. The Canucks downed the Flyers 3-2.

Feb. 16, 1971: The expansion Canucks pulled off a nearly impossible task and defeated the Boston Bruins 5-4. Hodge turned aside 29 of 33 shots in the shocking victory, while teammate Rosaire Paiement had a point on all five Vancouver goals—a hat trick with two assists. Nine days later, the two teams would meet again and Boston unleashed revenge with an 8-3 win and 60 shots against Dunc Wilson.

Mar. 13, 1971: While the Bruins would defeat the Canucks once again, Hodge was brilliant between the pipes. Making 40 saves in the 6-3 loss on Vancouver ice, 27 of the shots he faced came in the 2nd period.

Mar. 19, 1971: Hodge recorded the final win of his career. The Canucks defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-4 and Hodge made 34 saves in the process.

Mar. 21, 1971: In a 6-3 loss to the Minnesota North Stars Hodge played a single period of 20-minutes. He made five saves on seven shots. This would be the final game of his hockey career.

Saying Goodbye to an Original Canuck

While heroic is likely too strong a word to describe Charlie Hodge’s encore performance with the inaugural Vancouver Canucks, it is not far from the truth. Vancouver finished the season in sixth place in the East Conference. Their record of 24-46-8 garnered them 56 points in the standings.

It is remarkable to consider that Hodge accounted for over 60% of the club’s victories. He did exactly what the expansion Canucks needed of him and did it very well, keeping them competitive, especially against powerhouses like Boston and Montreal.

Hodge retired after the Canucks’ first season. He eventually became a scout for the Winnipeg Jets, Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins. Hodge was awarded two Stanley Cup rings with the Penguins when the team won the trophy in 1991 and 1992.

After a long hockey career, Charlie Hodge sadly passed away at the age of 82 in April 2016. While he may be gone, he is forever etched in Canucks and hockey history. He was the cornerstone of the foundation of a franchise that has stood for nearly 50 years. An original Canuck who, in his final year, made their first year one for the ages.