Brampton - Cody Hodgson returned to the ice with his Brampton Battalion teammates Wednesday.
Hodgson skated in a Battalion practice for the first time since being returned to the Ontario Hockey League club by the Vancouver Canucks on Sept. 29. Hampered by a bulging disc in his back, he had been confined to off-ice rehabilitation under the supervision of trainer Binne Brouwer until starting light skating alone Nov. 2.
"It feels awesome to be back out there and be able to skate and pass with the guys," centre Hodgson said as the Battalion prepared to host the Kingston Frontenacs at 7 p.m. Thursday. "I've been looking forward to this all week. My back didn't really tighten up much until the end of practice. Everything seems to be going in the right direction.
"I tried to get into game-type situations skating with Binne, and it went well. I'm still a little rusty, and I have a lot to do before I can play again, but it's a great first step."
Goaltender Patrick Killeen has been a teammate of Hodgson for four seasons. The pair worked on shooting drills at the end of the one-hour session.
"It was a huge boost for us," said Killeen. "It really lifted the guys when he skated out there. He's a huge part of this team, even if he's not playing, because he's such a great leader. He looked to be skating well, and his shots were good. He's not too far behind his normal pace, from what I can see."
Hodgson, scheduled to return to Ohio's Cleveland Clinic on Monday for a one-day evaluation by Dr. Anthony Miniaci, has targeted an early December return to action.
"I have a schedule for exercises I can move on to once I feel ready for them, and there will be another couple of weeks before I feel ready to go full out, and then another week after that. Right now, I'd say we are on schedule."
Before returning to the ice, Hodgson had been off skates since his final National Hockey League preseason game with the Canucks, on Sept. 27.
"It's the longest I've been off the ice since I was two. Even in the summer, I'd get out once in a while for shinny. It's a matter of getting your muscles back. You build up the muscle memory through training and, if you're off the ice for a while, you can lose that. You need to get that back, and when I got back out there I felt like I was two years old and learning to skate. I had to rebuild my stride."
Hodgson, 19, said he's never before been sidelined by injury.
"When you're playing, you don't see the other side of it. It's tough, and now I know what guys go through who are injured. You're on the ice while the guys are working in the gym to get back. You need to work hard, and my goal is to come back better than I was."
He has yet to attend a Battalion game this season, preferring to watch on television.
"It's not great for me to sit in cold rinks and watch, so it's better for me to watch at home. It's a great group with solid leadership. I like to see what lines I might fit in on. There's no shortage of talent. They've done well to this point. I see some things we can work on."
The Battalion won 3-2 at Kingston last Friday night, with Killeen making 35 saves through overtime and five more in a shootout. The Troops allowed only 18 shots in a 3-2 road loss to the Belleville Bulls the next night, and rookie Jacob Riley made 20 saves in a 2-0 blanking of the visiting London Knights on Sunday.
"The last two games have been great for us defensively, and I think the London game was one of the best ones we've played so far this season," said Killeen. "Kingston has a lot of pure goal scorers. You can't give them a lot of breaks, and we have to jump on whatever chances we get. If we play defensively like we did the last two games, we should be all right."