Joel Hofer didn’t have a lot of time to think about his first-ever start for Canada.
Having learned late Sunday he’d get the call to steady the ship at the world junior hockey championship following a disastrous loss just 48 hours earlier, the calm and cool 19-year-old went about his normal routine the best he could.
The only thing was, the pesky butterflies in Hofer’s stomach were fluttering more than usual.
“I had to pop a melatonin so I could sleep,” said the Winnipeg native.
The formula worked, and now one of the tournament favourites is back on track.
Hofer made 18 saves, including three key stops in the second period with his team up 1-0, as Canada beat Germany 4-1 at the world juniors on Monday afternoon.
Nolan Foote, Liam Foudy and Ty Dellandrea each had a goal and an assist, while Calen Addison also scored for the under-20 national team, which was coming off Saturday’s stunning 6-0 loss to Russia. Jared McIsaac added two assists.
“I was pretty nervous,” Hofer said. “There was a lot of pressure after last game. It was pretty embarrassing for us.”
Having never received an invite from Hockey Canada until selection camp earlier this month, Hofer has been lights out with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks in 2019-20, putting together a resume that includes 20-4-2 record, a 1.81 goals-against average and .937 save percentage.
“He played phenomenal,” Canadian defenceman Kevin Bahl said. “His confidence is off the charts.”
Nico Daws started the first two games, but has allowed eight goals on 50 shots and was pulled against Russia to open the door for Hofer, who was selected in the fourth round of the 2018 NHL draft by St. Louis.
Head coach Dale Hunter wouldn’t name his goalie for the team’s round-robin finale New Year’s Eve against the host Czech Republic, but said the plan was always to give Hofer at least one of these games.
“If I get the call,” Hofer said, “I’ll be ready.”
Yannik Valenti broke the shutout bid with 67 seconds left in regulation on a 5-on-3 power play for Germany. Hendrik Hane made 22 stops in defeat.
Canada, which sits with two wins and a loss through three contests, can guarantee top spot in Group B and a more favourable quarterfinal draw by beating the Czechs after the U.S. downed Russia on Sunday.
“All of us took a look in the mirror,” Hofer said. “Guys stepped up big.”
The Canadians were minus two-thirds of their top line after Alexis Lafreniere, the projected No. 1 pick at the 2020 draft, suffered a knee injury in that Russian demolition — the country’s most lopsided defeat in the tournament’s 44-year history.
Joe Veleno, meanwhile, served a one-game suspension for a head-butting incident the same night to leave his team with just 11 forwards.
Hockey Canada released a statement saying it disagreed with the decision. Hunter said he’d seen the replay — Veleno barely made contact with the visor of defenceman Danil Misyul — but didn’t really want to comment further.
“You just move on,” he said. “We’ve got a fresh Joe (on Tuesday). That’s the positive.”
The other good news is Lafreniere hasn’t been ruled out of the tournament after an MRI revealed no structural damage. He watched Monday’s game from the stands with Veleno and third-string goalie Olivier Rodrigue.
After beating the United States 6-4 on Boxing Day and then getting their doors blown off by Russia — the program’s toughest two-game stretch to open the world juniors since 1980 — the Canadians had a number of chances early before Foote finally found the range.
The son of two-time Stanley Cup champion and 2002 Olympic gold medallist Adam Foote roofed his second at 11:50 from the slot after Bahl’s initial blast was blocked. The breakthrough allowed the Canadians to breathe a little easier in front of an Ostravar Arena crowd doted with the usual red and white of the country’s travelling support.
It was also the first time they’d scored the opener after falling behind the Americans 2-0 and the Russians 3-0 in their two previous first periods.
“Definitely a momentum booster,” said Foote, a first-round pick by Tampa Bay last June. “We’re playing on home soil, basically, it seems like with the fans.”
Germany, which fell 6-3 to the U.S. in its first game before upsetting the Czechs 4-3, got a power play later in the period, but Hofer was there to deny a unit with high-end skill that was a tournament-best 5 for 11 coming in.
Other than that, the Germans didn’t offer much as Canada pinned them deep in their zone for long stretches.
“We had too many turnovers,” said captain Moritz Seider, the sixth pick in 2019 by Detroit. “Canada has a good team and they’ll take their chances.”
Hofer, who made 20 stops against Russia, made a good save on Valenti during another German man advantage in the second before denying Dominik Bokk and robbing John-Jason Peterka with his glove on a breakaway after McIsaac’s stick broke.
“He stood tall for us,” Hunter said. “That was a crucial part of the game.”
Foudy doubled the lead moments later when the seas parted in the offensive zone and he fired shortside at 12:24. The Columbus first-rounder is the son of France Gareau, who won silver at the 1984 Olympics in the women’s 4×100-metre relay.
“She’s in the stands probably more nervous than anyone,” he said. “She’s enjoying it.”
Addison, a Pittsburgh prospect, then fired a slapshot on a 5-on-3 power play just 1:37 later to make it 3-0.
Valendi ruined the shutout bid on another two-man advantage with just over a minute to play before Dellandrea iced it into an empty net.
Canada is now 14-0 at the world juniors — with a combined 75-19 scoreline — against Germany since the latter’s reunification in 1990.
“We responded well from the Russian game,” Foote said. “We have to come out the same way (against the Czechs).”