Why wouldn't Cody Hodgson be wearing an ear-to-ear smile decorated by a twinkle in his eye?
The scalding of the Vancouver spotlight was at least temporarily removed last week with his assignment to the Manitoba Moose and having basically survived being the star of an intense Vancouver Canucks soap opera for the past year, life is good.
The daily drama -- a back injury misdiagnosed or not, treated correctly or not and when we come back from commercial, did the young player throw too much of a cold shoulder to the NHL team that drafted him in the first round of 2008? -- had tongues wagging for months on the West Coast.
But with a now-healthy back muscle and/or disc, one that allowed him to participate in just 24 junior games last season, Hodgson's pro career can begin in earnest at the ripe old age of 20.
"I'm feeling great," Hodgson began Tuesday after practice at the MTS Iceplex, a throng of cameras and notepads in his face. "This will be a good week of practice again and hopefully things will keep getting better here."
He played with the Moose on the weekend and although pointless, belongs to a 2-0 team.
"It was great, good to get into some games with the guys," he said. "It's a great group of guys, I've got awesome linemates in Aaron Volpatti and (Jordan Schroeder)."
The props brought some groans from his nearby teammates but the happy energy in the locker-room was obvious.
It's there that Hodgson is likely to find his pro foothold. His Moose team is young -- 10 players 22 or younger -- and it's that demographic combined with the absence of fan and media thumbscrews that permeate the Canucks these days that should nurture some confidence.
"These guys are a lot of fun," Hodgson said, bringing up just that. "It's a lot of younger guys, so this is going to be good."
And later, still eager to field the questions: "I think there's tons of pressure here but it's a different type of pressure here. It's obviously a great group of guys here in the room but we put a lot of internal pressure on ourselves.
"And we know we have a great city backing us up here in Winnipeg. I had a chance to experience some of that two years ago in the playoffs here. It was a packed house every night. It was a fun atmosphere to play in every night and I'm looking forward to it again this Friday."
That will be the first chance for Moose fans to reacquaint themselves with Hodgson and this new-look lineup. The Grand Rapids Griffins are the visitors for Friday and Saturday contests at the MTS Centre, Manitoba's first home action of the regular season.
New Moose coach Claude Noel appears on the scene in Winnipeg and in the case of Hodgson, who acquitted himself so well at the 2008 and 2009 world junior tournaments, the timing probably couldn't be better.
The Toronto native has a clean slate with the new coach.
"It's hard for me to judge Cody on the past," Noel said Tuesday. "I don't know too much about him. I only know from what I saw at training camp. But any player who's missed a year, that's difficult.
"Your hopes are to stay in Vancouver and he came here with a really good attitude knowing it's going to benefit him to just get playing, probably playing a lot.
"If there's anything missed, I can't answer it. I've been happy with the way he's played. He's been a real positive influence for us.
"He's playing very conscientious at both ends of the rink and we're really happy with his performance."
There are those who have already discarded Hodgson, as in baby out with the bathwater. Factions of the Vancouver media impatiently announced last week he was at last dispatched to the minor leagues, tossing the phrase around as some pejorative, some career disgrace, all the while having conveniently forgotten that Canucks coach Alain Vigneault and team stars, like Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, Mason Raymond, Rick Rypien, Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler, Jannik Hansen and even newcomers like Cory Schneider, Alex Bolduc and Guillaume Desbiens have all put in their development time with the Moose in such a "minor league."
Hodgson's return to Vancouver may not be coming today or tomorrow, but his performance chart, his pedigree, suggest he's anything but washed up.
That's probably why he was smiling Tuesday.
Rookie leads charge of the blue-line brigade
IT'S a rousing start for Moose blue-liners this season.
They've contributed five of the team's nine goals so far and accounted for 10 scoring points in the 2-0 start.
Two of those goals have come from 20-year-old rookie Kevin Connauton.
"I was a little nervous at first, obviously my first couple of pro games," Connauton said after Tuesday's practice. "But you've got to be able to go in with confidence. It was something I was focused on, to just play my game and not worry about anyone else."
The former Vancouver Giants standout, one of five 1990 birthdays on the Moose roster this season, scored in both Peoria and Rockford last weekend.
"It was pretty exciting to get the goals there, and the two wins as well," he said. "It's a big start for the team on the road."
Connauton said he's not one to fret about offence if it doesn't show up on the scoresheet on a given night.
"I know what my game is, a guy who likes to contribute, who likes to get into the play," he said. "I'm an offensive defenceman and that's something I'm confident in. I know I can do that and it's something I look forward to contributing to the team this season."
Instructions for home opener: Keep emotions in check
THE Moose have a busy agenda of practice this week.
"It's going to be the same here for a while -- we're going to try to get better every game we play and every day we perform out here in practice," said head coach Claude Noel.
Tuesday, Noel also shared some of the final instructions he will give the team before Friday's home opener against Grand Rapids. "I think we're going to have to keep wraps on our emotions, that we don't to get too carried away in trying to overperform and overplay, trying to impress our home fans and our family," he said.