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Pang: Hofer is a goalie to watch

From the backyard rink to Blues Training Camp, Joel Hofer is putting himself on the map

by Darren Pang / St. Louis Blues

I received a nice text from a broadcasting friend, Brian Munz, who does a great job as the play-by-play man for the Winnipeg Jets on TSN 1290. He saw my tweet regarding Blues goaltending prospect Joel Hofer at training camp.

Although I'm not a writer, as you know, I was intrigued and spoke with this young goaltender that led Canada to Gold in 2019 in the World Junior Championship.

Brian told me about Joel building a rink, in his front yard in his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

So Joel, what was the plan? He shared the story:

"Everything was shut down in Manitoba, and I was looking to skate. I was super bored, nothing to do. (I thought) why don't we make a rink in the front yard? When we were younger, my Dad would always make us a rink. It was always super snowy and such, and no tarp when he did it, so he just added water and would pack it down, pack down the snow."

"But when we started, there was no snow! It was just like water in the grass for three straight days. So we went and got a tarp and then we got all the boards laid out and the area was about 25 to 28 x 50 feet, so it was a good little area. So we put the tarp down and started flooding and everything, and then we realized the front lawn was so sloped! So now, the back area of the rink was full of water, so now we had to get the water to the top left of the rink!

"So, it took about two weeks to finally skate on it, and the water bill was probably through the roof, but it was definitely worth it just because I got to skate on it before I came to St.Louis. It was a cool experience. I looked forward to getting out there on the ice every day. I played with my younger sister and younger brother. I hadn't skated for about two months, so it was nice to get out there and do some movements and get the equipment on. I almost forgot how to put on the gear!

"We started in sections of the ice, so I didn't tear up the whole ice, and being a big guy your movement and positioning are so important."

I asked Joel about who shot pucks at him. He said his younger brother, Ryan. (The Winnipeg Free Press had a story from Mike Sawatzky about them at the time). Ryan is pictured in a Patrick Kane No. 88 sweater with their younger sister.

"Ryan scored on me a couple of times, he can shoot it. So, it was definitely good to get the competition and such, but every now and then, he'd strap on the pads and then I could snap a few shots nice to mix it up."

What goalie doesn't like to shoot a few ?

I had seen Joel at Traverse City for the Prospects Camp and also at the main Blues camp, and although he was tall, he was pretty lean - probably in the 145-pound area with a 6-foot-3 frame.

Now?

"I'm just under 180-pounds and around 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5," Hofer said. "That was definitely a big focus for me the last couple of years, getting stronger."

The first few days of camp, I sat behind Joel's net, so its natural to get fixated on the goalie closest to me, and I was. He also faced the Blues' top line every other shift. That was quite a line - Brayden Schenn, Ryan O'Reilly and David Perron. And they are ultimate pros, shooting to score every time.

"They don't take it easy," Hofer said. "The first couple of days I was here, definitely super tough, had to adjust to their shots and them shooting the way they do."

I'm going to be keeping a close eye on Joel. I've seen many good prospects turn into really good NHL goalies in my post playing career, and here in St. Louis, I've seen Ben Bishop, Jake Allen, Jordan Binnington and this season, Ville Husso, take their turns from drafted to regulars and more.

It won't be long before Joel Hofer joins that list.

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