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With his grit and sometimes nasty nature, Justin Hodgman may be one of the world's toughest hockey players, but he's also the biggest softy alive when saying goodbye to his daughter and son.
``It never gets any easier,'' the former and future Fort Wayne Komets center said. ``Those airport scenes could be filmed for a drama. They are so young that they don't get it, but my daughter is 5 and she sort of gets it. `It's OK Daddy, we'll see you on Skype.' It's amazing how well she handles it.''
But he can't handle it any more, so the hero of the Komets' 2008 Turner Cup win and owner of championship rings from 2009 and 2010 is looking for a job in North America. After playing for a year in Finland and the last two in Russia, he wants to stay closer to Fort Wayne where he lives with his wife Nicole and their children. He's hoping for a two-way contract between an NHL team and its AHL affiliate.
``They offered me a contract to go back, but I have decided not to go back to Russia next year because I can't take my family with me,'' he said. ``The travel is too taxing, and the lifestyle is just so much different. Literally, there is no amount of money that would be worth it.''
The outstanding money in Europe has allowed him to provide financial stability for his family and playing in the Kontinental Hockey League has helped him grow as a player. Now is the time for him to try for the NHL. He turns 26 on Friday.
``I'm selling myself as a depth player,'' he said. ``I can make a difference as a role player. If I can't get a contract, I have to believe I can at least get a training camp offer. Every team brings 50 players to training camp.''
If that doesn't work, he'll probably return to Europe, but this time play again in eastern Europe where Nicole and the kids can join him as they did when he played in Finland.
Part of the problem in Russia is the travel, and the way he's moved around teams. After playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk in 2012-13, after 18 games a new coach traded him to Nizhny Novgorod where he played 14 games before being traded to an expansion team in Vladivostok which is nine hours east of Moscow and 50 kilometers from North Korea.
He helped Admiral Vladivostok rally to take the No. 8 seed in the playoffs. Hodgman scored four points in five playoff games as Admiral Vladivostok lost to No. 1 seed Metallurg Magnitogorsk in five games, the last two games in triple overtime and overtime.
``Their payroll was like $50 million and our whole team made $9 or $10 million,'' Hodgman said. ``It was crazy. We had no business even winning a game. It was actually one of the coolest things I've done in my career to help that team make the playoffs and then put up a fight.''
Whenever possible, which isn't often, he's been flying home during short breaks in the season. Once, Nicole and the kids met him in New York for a quick weekend. Another time he flew a combined 50 hours to spend 35 at home.
Now Braelynn is 5, and Zayden will turn 3 on July 9. The last two years, their dad had to leave for Russia immediately after his son's birthday party.
He could sign to return to Russia today and be paid extremely well. He'd just rather see his wife face-to-face than on a computer screen. He calls her a saint for putting up with his work life.
``We're going to be all right wherever we end up,'' he said. ``We'll either be in North America and under NHL contract, or we'll be in a great city in Europe having a better financial opportunity and still playing in one of the best leagues in the world. The whole plan was to come home and relax for the entire summer.''
The Hodgmans don't get many chances at normal family life, so he and Nicole are trying to make this summer last.
Someday, Hodgman says, he still plans on coming home to play again for the Komets, but it might not be for two or three more years.
``I plan to and I can't wait to, but I hope it's down the road. I can't wait,'' he said. ``I absolutely love playing here, but I want it to happen at the end of my career.''
He keeps in contact with all members of Komets management and staff and even watched a few games at the end of last season after he came home from Russia.
``I love it here and loved playing here, and I literally cannot wait,'' he said. ``I won't put a number on it, but hopefully not for a few years. I loved playing here for so many reasons, and the reasons are endless.''