New Hawks make good impression
Joel Hofer and Josh Paterson have looked comfortable in their first few games with the Portland Winterhawks.
Moving two time zones west hasn't been easy for either of the players acquired before the Jan. 10 Western Hockey League trade deadline. But each is embracing change.
Hofer, a goalie drafted last June by the St. Louis Blues, narrowly missed a shutout win over the Everett Silvertips in his Hawks home debut Saturday.
After facing the most shots in the WHL playing for a rebuilding Swift Current team, Hofer is looking forward to playing high-stakes hockey for Portland. It's why after six years playing as a skater, Hofer decided at age 10 he wanted to be a goaltender.
"I guess you could say I was born for it," Hofer says. "I like the pressure it brings. It's nice to have that pressure, and you have a lot of eyes on you. I like that, too."
Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price is a player Hofer studies.
"I just like how calm he is in the net and how he makes everything look so easy," Hofer says.
A 6-3 native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Hofer was the backup goalie who appeared in two games last season during Swift Current's run to the WHL title. He calls being part of that team "amazing. One of the best times in my life."
Hofer looked big-game ready in his first two games for the Winterhawks, which came against the teams with the two best records in the WHL. He made 23 saves on 26 shots in a 4-2 loss at top-ranked Prince George. In his home debut on Saturday, Hofer came within 15 seconds of a shutout in a 5-1 win over U.S. Division-leading Everett.
Winterhawks VP/GM/coach Mike Johnston was shopping for a goalie with more experience than 16-year-old backup Dante Giannuzzi and was happy to acquire an NHL-drafted player. Johnston likes what he's seen from his new goalie but has not yet plotted playing time between 19-year-old Shane Farkas (whose 41 games this season already are 16 more than he played as a backup a season ago) and 18-year-old Hofer.
Last weekend, Hofer played on Saturday and Farkas on Sunday. The Hawks are home for games Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, and Johnston says such busy stretches will provide opportunities for both goalies.
As the trade deadline approached, forward was not seen as a position of need. Still, at 6-3, 205, Paterson provides an ingredient Johnston and his staff were hoping to add: size.
"I was surprised to be headed to Portland," says Paterson, a 19-year-old who can play center and wing and who has quickly established himself as a presence in front of the net since the deal that sent Ryan Hughes to Saskatoon. "But change is a good thing, and I'm really happy to be here. It's a phenomenal organization and phenomenal people."
Playing alongside Cody Glass and Joachim Blichfeld, two of the most skilled offensive players in the WHL, is a neat opportunity for Paterson, who has stepped onto Portland's top offensive line and also plays on the No. 1 power-play unit and logs time on the penalty kill.
Paterson understands that his job is to create space for Glass and Blichfeld, and to be a pest in front of the net.
One of the NHL players Paterson tries to emulate is Joe Thornton, the power forward who continues to make an impact for the San Jose Sharks even as he approaches age 40.
Johnston "wants me to play a heavy game, battle and take the net front and win the corner battles and create space for them out there," Paterson says. "I've kind of made my home at the net front. It's where I'm comfortable, and I like to provide a good screen for the shooters and get deflections."
Johnston calls both Paterson and Hofer "really good hockey players" and says Paterson has quickly fit in on and off the ice.
"He's really good at the net, he's got a good stick, he's very smart," Johnston says.
In his first four games with the Winterhawks, Paterson has scored two goals and provided two assists. The goals, both scored by having his stick on the ice in front of the goal, came on the power play in his second game in a Portland sweater. That his first Portland goals came Jan. 12 against the Blades, who he'd been with since he played in 61 games as a 16-year-old WHL rookie, was a bit surreal.
"It was weird playing against people in the jersey I've worn for four years," Paterson says. "It was a great welcome to the Portland Winterhawks. It was a quick transition, so it was great to get a couple goals.".
It will take time to grow really comfortable in his new surroundings, but Paterson's work ethic is one reason the transition to new teammates is going well.
An alternate captain with Saskatoon, Paterson is not a rah-rah type. His method of leadership is "coming to the rink every day ready to work. I try to lead by example and show the young kids how to act and what to do," he says. "I just need to come and do my best every day and hope they follow suit."
Paterson, still eligible for the NHL draft, entered the year focused on improving his speed and strength. He figures playing in Portland's fast-paced system alongside Glass, Blichfeld and company can only help him there.
After spending 3 1/2 seasons and playing 246 games for Saskatoon, Paterson admits it was sad to say goodbye to his friends there. "But Portland's a great organization," he says, "and I'm really happy to be here, and I'm looking forward to starting the next chapter of my career."