USA Hockey NTDP Head Athletic Trainer Jason Hodges
PLYMOUTH, Mich. — In any organization like the USA Hockey National Team Development Program (NTDP) that has had success, there are always people behind the scenes who don’t receive nearly enough credit.
Jason Hodges falls under that category.
For the last 20 years, Hodges has served as one of two athletic trainers for the NTDP. Hodges has been on the staff of five gold medal-winning squads for the IIHF Under-18 Men’s World Championships (2005, 2009, 2011, 2015, 2017) and three World Under-17 Challenge squads that have placed first (2001, 2010, 2014).
“He’s part of the foundation of this program,” said Scott Monaghan, senior director of operations for the NTDP. “He’s been here since the beginning of Year 2, and he’s been an unbelievable rock type of person that when things are tough, he knows how to keep it going in the right direction.”
Hodges, who is the head athletic trainer and is paired on the staff with Dennis MacDonald, makes sure the players on the Under-18 and Under-17 squads are kept as healthy as possible. Some players might try to disguise injuries because they want to continue playing and show their potential to college coaches and NHL scouts, but Hodges makes sure he’s not threatening any player’s career.
“I tell them, ‘My job here is to try to help you be the best you can be on the ice. But I don’t want to put you out there where you can hurt yourself more,’” Hodges said.
The 42-year-old is always looking out for the best interest of the players. He builds a solid rapport with the athletes, learning their tendencies and how they react to certain situations.
“It takes a little while to get to know them, but you spend so much time with these kids,” said Hodges, who is employed by the University of Michigan, which contracts out to USA Hockey. “It’s every day on the road and all that stuff, so you get to know them pretty quick. It’s huge having the same group for two years.”
Hodges works in two-year cycles with the players, so this year he’s in charge of the 2001 birth year. He’ll be on the bench for all the U17 games this season and follow them up to the U18 team next season.
Building a strong relationship with the players he works with helps Hodges perform his job at the highest level, Monaghan noted.
“He loves what he does,” Monaghan said. “He’s a very talented trainer. He’s also really an administrator of our whole medical area. He’s the glue there that keeps the trains running on time. When you’ve got 45 kids, that’s a lot of people to manage with injuries. One of the things that Jason’s really good at is when we get that time of year when we get a bunch of guys fighting the flu and there’s a guy with a shoulder and there’s a guy with a knee, he’s really good at making sure that everybody’s being taken care of.
Another important aspect of Hodges’ job is having a good rapport with the coaches of both teams. Hodges must deliver injury news and reports to the coaches, so building trust is a key component. During Hodges’ tenure, there have been 13 head coaches with the NTDP.
“We always try to have he and our equipment guy and our other trainer be a little bit part of the process when we’re bringing guys in,” Monaghan said. “They are really good at developing relationships with different coaches. They all have different approaches, different personalities. Those guys know how to be reactive to what the personality of the coach is and what his expectations are while bringing the coach along and helping him understand the framework of how we do things.”
Hodges at the World Junior Championship
A busy schedule
Hodges, who received his undergraduate degree in movement science from the division of kinesiology at the University of Michigan in 1998 and his master’s degree the following year from Indiana State, knows the pressure is on to get injured players back up to health. With only 22 players on the U18 roster and 23 guys on the U17 squad, there’s not much wiggle room when guys miss games.
“If someone gets hurt, we’re down a man,” Hodges said. “Most colleges, they’ll carry like 25 guys on the roster or whatever, it varies. They have backups to kind of fill if they have injuries, here we don’t have any backups, really. It’s a little bit of a challenge if guys can’t make it or play.”
USA Hockey Arena offers an excellent on-site facility for the trainers. Hodges has supplies at his fingertips that are comparable to major Division I college hockey programs, including ice baths and cold-water therapy equipment and NormaTec Recovery boots.
But sometimes the best healing technique for the young players doesn’t require much effort from Hodges.
“These guys are at an age where they heal well,” Hodges said. “It’s funny, because you can have a kid who leaves here with a hip flexor strain or a groin strain and you’re like, ‘He’s probably not going to practice tomorrow.’ So, you go tell coach, ‘Hey, I don’t think Johnny’s going to play.’ He comes in tomorrow and he feels great.”
Even if the injury front is rather quiet, Hodges keeps busy. On a typical non-gameday during the season, Hodges gets to arena in the morning to take care of administration work, talk to coaches and have meetings about players. By around noon, players are starting to stream into the rink following school. Hodges’ day is usually over around 5 p.m. following practice.
When the U17 squad has a home game, the players get to the rink around 5 p.m. Hodges is on the bench for games and travels with the team. He still enjoys the aspect of traveling internationally for tournaments.
“After all these years, I still enjoy it, I really enjoy being around here.”
And the players enjoy having him around, too.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.