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December 01, 2015

Doug Bodger

Doug Bodger was one of those quietly efficient defenseman who did everything fairly well but nothing overly great. He was often under-appreciated when he played, and will likely be forgotten about as the years pass. That's why this website wants to immortalize him.

Bodger had all the tools to be a good defenseman. He had was a strong skater with good mobility. He was a confident puck carrier with great vision of the ice, both offensively and defensively. He consistently made safe, smart passes to break out of his zone and exploit openings for his teammates. He was also a strong powerplay player, often setting up teammates with intelligent passes to create good scoring opportunities. He was a hard working, coachable player who was just a step below the All Star level.

His major weakness in his game was the lack of a great shot. He also was fairly generous on opposing forwards physically. He was effective in using his body to steer forwards away from the net, but lacked a mean streak to use his good size to its fullest advantages.

Born in the mural-crazy town of Chemainus, B.C., Doug left home in 1982 to join the WHL's Kamloops Blazers. It was a great two years in Kamloops for Doug. He scored 26 goals and 92 points as a rookie defenseman in 72 games in his first year, and followed that up with 21 goals and 77 assists for 98 points in 70 games. More importantly, in the 1984 playoffs, Bodger was a big part of the Blazers march to the Memorial Cup, defeating Mario Lemieux's Laval Titan for the title.

Oddly enough, Bodger and Lemieux would become teammates later that year. The Penguins had the 1st and 9th overall draft picks that year. After taking Super Mario first overall, the Pens snapped up Bodger with the 9th pick.

Those first few seasons in Pittsburgh weren't easy for a young defenseman, as the team struggled to gain respectability. Bodger credits the help of two players especially in his development in Pittsburgh.

Veteran Moe Mantha - a defenseman very similar in style to Bodger - took the young Doug under his wing and was almost like a big brother. Mantha taught Bodger how to not let the game affect his life. He taught him how to be a professional both on and off the ice.

Bodger's offensive skills weren't truly honed at the NHL level until the arrival of Paul Coffey in 1987.

"I went there and 'Bodg' was just a raw guy with tremendous talent," said Coffey, Bodger's teammate from 1987-89. "He just needed a little help in a few areas. I am not responsible for it all, though. He was very approachable and coachable and a great young player."

Bodger played just over 4 seasons in Pittsburgh, scoring 35 goals and 132 points for 167 points in 319 games. In those 4 seasons Bodger played a strong role in reviving the Penguins back to respectability. Unfortunately for Doug, Bodger was traded to Buffalo in November 1988, just a couple of seasons before the Pens became two time Stanley Cup champs.

The Pens traded Bodger and left winger Darrin Shannon to Buffalo for goaltender Tom Barrasso - a mjor piece of the championship puzzle. So indirectly, Bodger still played a big role in the Pens title.

Doug served seven seasons in snowy Buffalo, often teaming up with Phil Housley to form a dynamic power play. Bodger was a consistent 45-50 point scorer in his first 5 seasons in Buffalo, topping out with a career high 54 in 1992-93.

However towards the end of his stay in Buffalo, age was beginning to catch up with Bodger. His role was reduced and so was his scoring and ice time. The Sabres eventually moved Bodger out west to the San Jose Sharks.

San Jose was a welcome place as far as Bodger was concerned. The winters were a lot warmer on the Californian coast as opposed to upper New York state, and the Sharks wanted Bodger badly. They had a lot of young defenseman, but lacked a veteran presence to help them develop. Bodger willingly accepted the role, much like Moe Mantha did with him years earlier.

"A coach can do all he can, but when it's someone who has been in the league for nine-ten years you can take a lot from that," said Mike Rathje, one of the youngsters who benefited from Bodgers presence. "Whenever a younger guy makes a mistake, (Bodger's) there. He tells you how to solve the problem. You can just watch him on the ice and learn. He always makes the play, does something with the puck, and is so calm and in control."

Bodger played 2 and 1/2 seasons in San Jose before a surprising trade saw Bodger go to New Jersey. A free agent at the end of the season, the Sharks had little intention of resigning the veteran, and jumped at New Jersey's offer of a 4th round pick. Otherwise the Sharks would have gotten nothing.

After expressing some initial shock, Bodger was happy to join New Jersey for the rest of the year. The Devils were expected to be strong Stanley Cup contenders. The Cup of course was one of the few things that escaped Bodger's career. However things didn't work out as the Devils were quickly ousted from post season play.

Bodger returned to California the following season, signing with the LA Kings for one season. Despite playing very well when several key players were out with injuries, and despite being named as an alternate captain, Bodger was released at the end of the year.

It appeared that Bodger's career was over until the Vancouver Canucks came calling in the summer of 1999. Bodger leapt at the chance to fulfill a boyhood dream of playing for the local NHL hockey team. It sounded like the perfect ending to a great career for Bodger. He even took a big pay cut to make it happen.

"I grew up on Vancouver Island watching the Canucks. This is special," he said. "I know a lot of people from the area, on the island, and in Vancouver. I've got aunts and uncles. My dad lives in Richmond near the airport. So it's going to be fun playing in front of everybody."

However this dream wasn't like he had imagined as a kid. He only played in 13 games for the Canucks, and was often a healthy scratch. A young team that would have to scratch and claw its way to even a sniff of a playoff spot, the team opted to use rookie and minor league defensemen over the veteran Bodger.

By December the Canucks put Bodger on waivers, and when he cleared that he was demoted to the minor leagues, a place he had never played in his entire career. He wasn't about to start then either. He opted to retire rather than uprooting his family and playing somewhere where he didn't want to.

"I didn't come for the money. I came here to play hockey in Vancouver, not Syracuse." explained Bodger.

"Really, my heart wasn't in it anymore. I had a good ride. As I said before, if you had told me a kid from Chemainus would make 1000 games, I'd have told you you were crazy!"

Doug returned to Vancouver Island in 2000, where he operates two sporting good stores.

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