A sports coach’s journey to Olympic hockey

By on March 18, 2022 0

From his spot on the bench, Jason Hodges can see it all.

He notices if someone skates differently during a practice, maybe an injury. He can see who needs to improve their conditioning. He knows what training and therapy each player needs to improve their performance.

The veteran athletic trainer has handled all of these tasks and more while working with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, which develops the sport’s best young talent at its facilities in Plymouth, Michigan.

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For 24 years with an rinkside view, Jason Hodges saw the future of American hockey.

“I’m lucky to be here long enough to be able to turn on any National Hockey League game and see at least one or more of the athletes on the ice that I’ve worked with and helped make them happen. take it to the next level,” said Hodges, who is affiliated with MedSport, the University of Michigan Health’s multidisciplinary sports medicine team led by orthopedic surgeons. “Our Under-18 team could have at least five first-round picks this year. We have a hidden gem here in Plymouth.

Hodges works with a team of six coaches, two coaches and two team doctors, both of whom are also professors at the University of Michigan Health.

The final step

Over 1,500 games, Hodges provided services for several international competitions, including the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship. But last February, he received an invitation to join USA Hockey for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing as one of their athletic coaches – his first time getting the call.

“It’s the ultimate step,” Hodges said. “I’ve had athletes who have competed in the Olympics and come through the program, so I had some familiarity. And originally, NHL players were supposed to play in this event, but they backed out at the last minute. So these athletes were kind of thrown in there, and they were really honored to be there. It was even better to support them and help them realize their dream of becoming an Olympian.

The environment was not just new to Hodges, but to the entire team and staff. Due to the high transmission of COVID-19, spectators were limited and athletes were kept in separate bubbles. Despite additional challenges, Hodges and the other two guest coaches helped athletes navigate safety protocols and manage day-to-day injuries throughout the competition.

“Jason is an incredibly humble individual who often shuns the spotlight while working with some of hockey’s most compelling elite players,” said Rebecca Northway, MD, a sports medicine primary care physician at the University of Michigan Health and a team physician with the United States National Hockey Team’s Development Program. “His dedication to player development and safety has been even more evident during the COVID pandemic, where he has been integral to the development of COVID protocols, player welfare and safety, and the pursuit of the game as safely as possible. I can’t think of anyone better than Jason for representing Team USA, working with many of the players he had worked with at USA Hockey in their younger years.