Hofer makes his mark
Joel Hofer's golden performance at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship bodes well for the Portland Winterhawks.
The St. Louis Blues prospect already was having a great season, leading the Western Hockey League in wins and save percentage. Earning goaltender-of-the-tournament honors while helping Canada to the gold medal with a comeback win on Sunday over Russia figures to only increase Hofer's confidence.
Success under the pressure of playing at the World Juniors "really helps come playoff time, for sure," Winterhawks VP/GM/coach Mike Johnston said.
Portland has had a number of skaters play and have success at the tournament, but this is the first time a Winterhawks goalie has participated.
"It's going to help his career," Johnston said.
Hofer had never been invited to a Team Canada tryout camp before the one that preceded this tournament. He earned a spot on the roster, but was the backup until entering in the second period of Canada's second group-play game — a 6-0 loss to Russia in which Hofer gave up the final two goals.
Canada went 5-0 the rest of the way with the 6-5 Winnipeg, Manitoba native between the pipes. Hofer came within 67 seconds of a shutout in his first start. He allowed only one goal combined in easy quarterfinal and semifinal wins, then made some big saves in a scoreless first period of the gold-medal game that Canada won by scoring three goals in less than seven third-period minutes to erase a two-goal deficit.
Hofer is expected to join the Winterhawks this weekend in Victoria, British Columbia.
The other Winterhawk at the tournament in the Czech Republic was Swiss forward Simon Knak. At 17, Knak is eligible to play in the tournament two more times. Despite his youth, Knak played regular shifts and scored two goals in five games as Switzerland went 3-1 in its group and lost 3-1 to Russia in the quarterfinals.
Knak also will be available for the Hawks this weekend.
• Friday is the WHL trade deadline. Portland on Wednesday traded goalie Isaiah DiLaura to Swift Current to clear a roster spot after 17-year-old Dante Giannuzzi played well in four starts while Hofer was away. But don't be surprised if the Winterhawks are less active than many years at the deadline. Johnston is thrilled with the way his 16- and 17-year-old players have handled playing significant roles this season, and the Winterhawks' 27-6-1-3 record was the best in the WHL entering a Tuesday game against Spokane.
Unlike some years, this team does not have any obvious needs and Johnston does not want to disrupt the chemistry.
On Monday, Johnston said he was not pursuing a trade. That doesn't mean one won't happen, but he has said he will not make a "rent-a-player" move this season. If Johnston does deal, expect any player coming to Portland will be young enough to be part of the club beyond this season.
• Hofer's absence from the Hawks, and some recent illness within the team, didn't prevent the club from continuing to win. Entering Tuesday, Portland was 11-0-0-1 in its last 12 games, rising to the top of the WHL in points per game. The Winterhawks continue to use scoring balance and solid special teams — and were 12-0-1-2 against U.S. Division opponents entering Tuesday.
• The Hawks will see a familiar face in goal when they visit Victoria for games Friday and Saturday. Shane Farkas ranks fifth in the league in goals against. Now 20, Farkas played 80 regular-season games and four playoff games in three seasons with the Winterhawks.
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