Cody-mania started to rock Rogers Arena on Saturday morning as fans came out early for a chance to get Cody Hodgson's autograph. But he was still getting used to the idea of being in the visitors' dressing room.
“It's a different feeling,” said Hodgson after skating with his new Buffalo Sabres teammates prior to playing his former Vancouver Canucks squad.
“It's a little surreal. It's tough to describe. Last time I was in here was probably training camp at the beginning of the year.”
Hodgson was the headliner in a four-player trade that sent depth defenceman Alexander Sulzer to the Sabres for 20-year-old rookie winger Zack Kassian and rearguard Marc-Andre Gragnani. All four players were pencilled into their respective lineups.
Unlike a day earlier when he slipped into Rogers Arena to pick up his car and quickly left, Hodgson attracted plenty of attention in advance of a game that has been highly anticipated.
Fans staked out the players' entrance to the arena in advance of his arrival and he signed autographs for the ones who managed to gain admission for morning skates usually closed to the public.
A media horde also flocked into the dressing room after he had managed to elude many microphones Friday and was rarely sought out for interviews in his final days with the Canucks.
He also completed an interview with Hockey Night in Canada for a feature to be aired during the game.
“Obviously, you always want to play well for the fans,” said Hodgson. “They've always supported me.”
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said Hodgson played well in his first two games, in which the Sabres blanked Anaheim and San Jose. The bench boss had little doubt Hodgson would be up for the game against his former mates.
“It's always an emotional night any time you play against your former team,” said Ruff, adding he expected the same from the new Canucks.
The deal reunited Hodgson with former Vancouver defenceman Christian Ehrhoff, who left the Canucks as a free agent last summer and signed with the Sabres.
Ehrhoff, who played few games with Hodgson as he spent most of last season in the minors, said the 22-year-old Toronto native has played an important role with Sabres, who have a shortage of natural centres.
“Obviously, it fills a need for us down the middle,” said Ehrhoff of the trade. “Cody has had a great season here from what I've heard. We need a playmaking centre, and he can be that player.”
Meanwhile, Sulzer was all smiles as a throng of reporters thronged around his dressing room stall while paying him little heed the past six months. He drew into the lineup for the first time since the deal. He was a healthy scratch in Anaheim and San Jose.
The 27-year-old native of Kaubeuren, Germany had not played for the Canucks since Jan. 15. He managed to get into the lineup for only 12 games with Vancouver after signing last summer as a free agent.
Sulzer's insertion marked a rare NHL occurrence as two Germans were paired on the blue-line together. He and compatriot Ehrhoff have been teammates and even roommates previously with Germany's Olympic and world championship teams, but rarely played together.
“It's obviously a great pairing with both Germans,” joked Sulzer.
Notes: Sulzer replaced Robyn Regehr (lower-body injury) in the Buffalo lineup. ... The Canucks went with th same lineup that beat St. Louis 2-0 on Thursday.