After Tuesday’s practice, Kenai River Brown Bears forward Cody Moline said he was 5-foot-6 to a reporter.
“I gave you 5-7,” shouted interim head coach Dan Bogdan, who had just been interviewed, from down the hall.
Moline still may have a few things to learn about being one of the shortest players in the league — always go for an extra inch for the media — but that list of needed knowledge has rapidly dwindled in his rookie season, resulting in improved play for the Brown Bears.
“You have to play a different game,” said Moline, who counts 5-9 Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau as his idol. “I always looked at it like an advantage. It lets you avoid things easier.
“I’ve been short my whole life.”
Moline is on the roster at 5-6. He is tied for being the shortest player in the league to play at least 10 games this season with two other North American Hockey League players.
Bogdan, at 5-10, can relate. He became a big fan of Moline at the Brown Bears Main Camp.
“He’s really fast and he’s undersized,” Bogdan said. “I’m 5-10 and he’s 5-7. So we have a similar way of playing. His work ethic is great and he has a great attitude.”
Both Bogdan and Moline said one thing shorter players must have is great work ethic. A 6-2 player may be kept around in hopes he will someday develop great practice habits, but a 5-6 player has no such luxury.
Moline, son of Craig and Rhonda Moline of North Branch, Minnesota, said his parents gave him his work ethic.
“I was raised to work for what you want,” he said. “What you put in is what you get out. As long as you give 100 percent, good things will happen in your life.”
The trajectory of Moline’s career has shown that thus far. At North Branch, he went from 18 points in 24 games as a sophomore to 48 points in 25 games as a junior to 64 points in 25 games as a senior. North Branch had corresponding success, finishing just one game from Minnesota’s vaunted state tournament last season before breaking through to make state this season.
Brown Bears associate general manager Chris Hedlund invited Moline to Main Camp, but after getting cut by the Minot (North Dakota) Minotauros, Moline was strongly considering playing Tier III hockey, one level below the Tier II NAHL.
“Money is tight in my family, and those camps are expensive,” Moline said. “I train so much during the summer that I didn’t want to spend a bunch of time going to camps.”
Hedlund called and offered a discount so Moline showed up for Main Camp.
“I played eight of the nine games in three days,” he said. “It was crazy. We were on the ice the whole time.
“I figured this was my last chance to make it. I’d better do what I can.”
Moline made the team, but then faced a new challenge. After piling up points in high school, he had just one point in his first 21 games in a Brown Bears sweater.
“It was a tough transition,” he said. “They threw me in a different role than I am used to. Instead of a top-three forward, I was in the bottom of the lineup.”
Bogdan said that Moline remain focused on developing and didn’t let the lack of points get him down.
“As a coach, he’s exactly what you want,” Bogdan said. “He’s a good kid off the ice and he works extremely hard on the ice.”
Moline spends more time on the ice than Brown Bears practices and games. He rooms with fellow forward Justin Daly at the home of Curt and Marsha Hallam of Kenai. Each weekday, Moline and Daly average an hour and a half at the Kenai Multi-Purpose Facility, taking game day and the day before a game off.
“He has the speed,” Bogdan said. “He has to work on his hands and vision so he can see the game at that speed and make plays at that speed.”
The work is starting to pay off. After going pointless for seven games, Moline has four points in his last seven games, including a goal and two assists in his last four games. Overall, he has two goals and seven assists in 41 games.
Moline, a 19-year-old with one season of junior eligibility left after this season, has talked to every Division III school in Minnesota. He’s hoping to attract Division I interest by — what else? — continuing to work. He is studying to get a better score on the ACT and will take some online college classes next school year.
“I have friends that play at St. Cloud that tell me points aren’t everything,” Moline said. “Coaches want players that have heart and care a lot about the team. They want guys going out there and doing the right thing and not necessarily just getting more points.”
Moline said he loves the Kenai Peninsula, calling the fishing and outdoors vibe similar to Minnesota, with the difference being mountains. That was something he learned on a snowboarding trip to Mount Alyeska.
“I thought it was just going to be like some hills in Minnesota, then we pulled up and I saw that mountain and thought, ‘I think I could die today,’” he said. “But I caught on quick.”