Toronto Maple Leafs fans may not have seen a whole lot of Troy Bodie this season, but he’s no stranger to the NHL, and probably more familiar with Randy Carlyle as a coach than most of the Leafs’ current roster.
The 2003 Edmonton Oilers draft pick is a four year NHL veteran who has suited up for 121 games between the Anaheim Ducks (where he played 57 games in three seasons under Carlyle), Carolina Hurricanes, and now the Toronto Maple Leafs. Over those four seasons, he has amassed seven goals, seven assists, fourteen points, and 156 PIM. He’s been a pro for twice as long though, logging 368 games in the minors with eight different teams since 2006-07. He also played four seasons with my hometown Kelowna Rockets of the WHL, where he won the Memorial Cup with the team in 2004.
Though Leafs fans may remember him best from episodes two and three of the HBO 24/7 Red Wings/Maple Leafs: Road to the Winter Classic series (Bodie put up 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 fights and 15 PIM in that time), he’s now primarily playing with the Leafs’ AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies. So far, the 6’4” winger has appeared in 16 games, scored 4 goals, 4 assists, and registered 9 PIM. His reassignment to the AHL cost him an appearance in the 2014 NHL Winter Classic, but he still got to play in an outdoor game, as the Marlies bested the Grand Rapids Griffins 4-3 outside at Comerica Park on December 30, 2013.
I caught up with Bodie recently during a Marlies’ road swing to St. John’s, Newfoundland, where the team was marooned and at the mercy of the polar vortex that had delayed the team’s trip home to Toronto.
Playing in 14 Leafs games this season also means that you’ve missed more than 30 of their games. What factors go into Randy Carlyle giving you the call and putting you in the Leafs lineup or not from night to night?
Bodie: “I believe that one was strictly numbers. Colton Orr, who plays primarily the fourth line right wing, was down with an injury. That’s the kind of role I play. It was nice to get the call and get up there, but it was strictly just to fill a role. He got healthy, and then I went back down.”
Most opinions from players who have played or are playing for Randy seem to concur that he can be a tough coach. This is now the fourth season you’ve played under him, how is he to play for?
Bodie: “Randy and I actually get along fine. He’s a tough coach. He expects a lot out of his players. At the same time, I think he’s fair. If you work hard for him and play the systems, he likes you. But if you go astray and do your own thing he can be pretty rough on you.”
During the 24/7 series, there was a scene at a Leafs practice where Randy pulls Mark Fraser and Paul Ranger aside and says, “…you’re not playing tonight, you’re not giving us what we need…if you’re going to play with our hockey club, your level of play has to go up.” Did you get a talk like that from Randy when you were reassigned, or how did your exit interview go?
Bodie: “Randy doesn’t do a whole lot of that on his own. He doesn’t talk to guys really, he kind of stays to his own. The one that actually told me was assistant GM Claude Loiselle. It’s usually just, ‘hey you know we liked your game… it’s a numbers game… go down to the minors and do your thing.’ That’s usually about it.”
How hard is it being a guy on the bubble? You’re good enough to play in the NHL, but have struggled to stay there. Obviously you’re a team guy, but to be the one who gets to play in a call-up scenario over others, it seems like you’d almost secretly have to root for guys to get hurt, or something. Can you describe what that situation is like?
Bodie: “You definitely want to be there. I wouldn’t say you secretly hope for injuries or anything like that, that’s bad karma. But you definitely pay attention to that kind of thing. Playing in the minors and being a bubble guy, you want to get up there and you obviously think about it quite a bit, but it’s something where you just worry about your game, play hard, and let the chips fall where they may kind of thing.”
In your opinion, is there more value from an ice-time and development standpoint to be playing in the minors regularly where you’ve played 16 games this year – and there may not be considering you’ve played more than 300 AHL games already — or is there more value for you to be practicing with the big club regularly but only playing sporadically?
Bodie: “I think there’s definitely value to both. Being up in the NHL with the big players, going through those practices, having the expert level coaching and being treated completely first class is very valuable. But if you’re not playing up there, it’s good for a guy like myself to continue playing by coming down to the minors and getting good minutes, getting the work in and being ready for when they do need you up.”
What are those little differences between the NHL and AHL that make them such different worlds? You mentioned the Leafs being first class, and I imagine the Marlies are top notch too.
Bodie: “In most organizations, the AHL and NHL are very different. In Toronto, we get treated very well in the minor leagues, so it’s tough to complain about much at all. The subtle differences are definitely the travel – in the minor leagues, you travel a lot by bus. In the NHL you really get anything you need. There are meals at every point you would need a meal. There’s always someone available, even if you need a Band-Aid, or an ice bag, or something like that. In the minor leagues, it’s a little more limited. Those little differences are big when you need them.”
Is there a level of frustration that comes with repeatedly getting called up and sent down, as you have over the last five seasons, rather than sticking?
Bodie: “Yeah, there’s definitely a level of frustration. You want to be a full-time player in the NHL. That’s your goal ever since you were a kid. So achieving your goal of getting to the NHL and then being sent down to the minors without any sort of timetable, then getting called up and everything’s good again, and then sent back down – it gets very frustrating, but it is what it is. It’s all part of being professional, I guess.”
How is it playing in the “centre of the hockey universe”, especially after playing in markets like Anaheim and Carolina? The scrutiny that comes with playing under that kind of microscope has proved to be too much for some players. How do you handle it, and how much pressure do you feel to be successful in Toronto and win the team’s first Stanley Cup in nearly 50 years?
Bodie: “Yeah, it is very different. In Carolina and Anaheim, you’re very under the radar. You’re not bothered at all if you go out somewhere or anything like that. People don’t give you the third degree about “…that turnover in the third period…” kind of thing. But in Toronto, that happens. It’s tough at times to get away from the game and just relax, but that’s more of something for the bigger time players like the Phaneufs and the Kessels of the world than the players like myself and the Marlies guys.”
So far this season, you appeared in 14 games with the Leafs, scored one goal and two assists, had three fights and 15 PIM. With the Marlies, you’ve played 16 games, have four goals and four assists, and nine PIM. You have 121 career NHL games played, seven goals, seven assists, 14 total points, and 156 PIM. With your penalty minutes outweighing your point totals as much as they do, is it fair to classify you as a fighter?
Bodie: “I don’t think a lot of players anymore really classify themselves as fighters. That’s something that doesn’t happen as much anymore, because in this day and age in the game you have to be able to play in order to get out there. There aren’t many guys that cannot play the game. Fighting is something I definitely think is part of my game and will be for the rest of my career, but I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a fighter. I think if you do that, you limit yourself.”
What do you think of the scrutiny that has been placed on fighters and fighting in hockey recently with respect to their relationship to concussions?
Bodie: “It’s a tough topic for the average fan, or mom or dad to really comment on because they don’t play the game. Fighting is very much a part of the game. It’s a way for the players to police themselves. People say things like injuries result from fighting… well of course they do. But if there wasn’t fighting, we all believe there would be more injuries from players taking liberties, knowing that there wasn’t that level of policing going on.”
Is it fair to assume that, if fighting were removed, some players may never get their break in the NHL? That doesn’t necessarily just mean the fighters, it could be guys who will just fight when they need to, and do whatever it takes to get into the lineup from night to night. What kind of players would we see getting their break into the league instead of guys who fight if that part of the game were taken out?
Bodie: “If that part of the game was taken out I think you’d find a more skilled fourth line. I think you’d see maybe more younger players getting their shot up there, in and out of the lineup. Maybe they’d call a young guy up for some experience in a spot that otherwise might have been held onto by a guy with more of a fighting role. I think the young guys might get a little more opportunity, but it’s tough to really say.”
What would happen to you and your game if fighting were to be removed from hockey? What elements of your game would you change to make sure you kept getting those call-ups?
Bodie: “I don’t think there would be much that I would personally change. As a player, you always want to get better. I work on my game. Every day I’m on the ice. But I don’t think there’s anything I would change. I’d more or less just hope the rest of my game would be adequate.”
You got called up to play with the Leafs during an interesting time, with the HBO 24/7 series being filmed and all, and you coming into their lineup on Dec 14th. You debuted in episode two, with the narrator mentioning you were filling in for David Clarkson. You fought twice that night, and we saw you get four stitches and return to action. Episode three saw you score your first NHL goal of the season in a win over Phoenix to open the show. Talk about that experience – how was it having the camera crews behind the scenes with you?
Bodie: “The HBO stuff was kind of cool. I thought maybe it’d be a bit of a nuisance with them around and being in your face and stuff. Like I said earlier, I think it was geared more towards the big time players — the Phaneufs, the Kessels, they got it the worst. But they were all good guys and they were respectful. It was a good experience having them around.”
With so many guys on the roster, they surely couldn’t feature everyone on camera, but you got significantly more screen time than a lot of your teammates. How did it play out that you got the TV time that you did?
Bodie: “I don’t know, just dumb luck I guess. Obviously it’s a TV show, so they’re looking for some sort of excitement. In the second or third game I got in two scraps, and they got some good footage of me getting stitches. That was maybe something they were looking for. It wasn’t something I was prepared for, but it is what it is.”
When you play in the NHL you have cameras on you all the time anyway, but is there any additional pressure in having a show like that present as well? Did it change the dynamic in the dressing room, or anything else?
Bodie: “There were times when you didn’t really notice them, I’d say. They kind of just sat in the middle of the room with the camera on. You saw them there obviously, and the camera moving, and the microphone around, but it wasn’t something that was overbearing or annoying. Like I said, I thought they were respectful in our space, so it was good.”
Did they have microphones on every guy all the time, or how did they pick up everything? Was it bothersome at all to skate with a microphone on?
Bodie: “For games and practices they’d pick a few guys and put a microphone on them. I had it once, and I didn’t even notice it for the game I had it on. You don’t think twice about it. You maybe mind your p’s and q’s a little more, but you don’t really notice it.”
Did you watch the show? What did you think of it?
Bodie: “I saw a little bit of it, yeah. Not all of it. I saw the little parts that I was in, but I didn’t get a chance to watch the whole thing. The parts I did see, I thought they did a great job. We were represented well. I thought it was good.”
You didn’t get to play outdoors at the Big House in Ann Arbor at the Winter Classic as you were returned to the Marlies on Dec 23rd, but you did appear in the Marlies outdoor game against Grand Rapids at Comerica Park in Detroit instead. How was that experience? How different is the outdoor game compared to a regular indoor game? Did you take time to enjoy it, or did you and the team just focus on getting the win?
Bodie: “It was an outdoor game, so it was pretty cool. I’d never played in one of those. I thought it was really neat how they did it. You definitely are thinking about the conditions, the cold, and whatnot, but it wasn’t that cold. Once you got into the heat of the game after the first few shifts it was just like another game. To win that game was more special than anything, but it was a good experience all around.”
In your opinion, what will it take for you to get back on the Leafs roster this season and tally 50 or more NHL games again like you did in 2010-11? Have they given you any indication of what it will take for you to play more games with them this year?
Bodie: “No, they don’t really communicate like that. You’re more or less left on your own to play hard and do your thing. You’re expected to know what you have to do to get up. Other than that, they don’t say a whole lot.”
Have you had a chance to follow your WHL alma mater Kelowna Rockets this year? They’re ranked #1 in the CHL for the time being.
Bodie: “I haven’t kept the greatest tabs, but I knew they were doing well this year. I saw Bruce Hamilton earlier this year, in Toronto actually, and he spoke very highly of them – which was unusual because usually he just complains and complains. But he had good things to say about them, and I’m excited to see them go farther and hopefully bring home another championship.”
Just to have a little fun, how often does Dion Phaneuf wear bowties to games, and how many more games would you have to play to have enough clout in the room to change the post win song to something other than a Miley Cyrus song?
Bodie: “To answer question number one, too often maybe. To answer the second one, I don’t worry about the music at all but that’s usually how it happens, you play some dumb win song and just go with it. It’s associated with good things, so you like it, right?”