Team Canada is on top of the world again after a gold-medal victory in the world junior hockey championship on Sunday.
While Toronto-born centre Akil Thomas has rightfully received credit for his thrilling game-winning goal, a Winnipegger earned rave reviews for his play throughout the tournament as well.
Goaltender Joel Hofer, 19, started the tournament as the backup to Nico Daws, but quickly became one of the championship team’s bright lights, with his impressive statistics drawing as much attention as his seeming unflappability in net.
“I think I’ve had that kind of composure ever since I was a kid,” Hofer told 680 CJOB.
“The gold medal game was probably the biggest game of my life.
“Going into that game, my mindset was just going out there and having fun and playing my game.
“I think everything happens for a reason, and everything will take care of itself. We went down 3-1 and our team came back and showed resiliency, and it was an amazing game.”
Hofer, selected by the St. Louis Blues in the fourth round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, wasn’t even initially on Hockey Canada’s radar, earning his way onto the squad after being overlooked for the team’s summer showcase.
Exceeding expectations, however, is nothing new for the Winnipegger.
“I switched to be goalie when I was 10, so I was kind of a late bloomer, in the sense that I wasn’t a goalie my whole life,” he said. “It was always something I was passionate about.
“Ever since I put on the pads for the first time, I kind of fell in love and kind of went from there.
“With a player, you’re not on the ice all the time, but the way I saw it when I was younger, the goalie’s on the ice every time, and there’s lots of pressure on him… He can be the star of the game.”
As a Blues prospect, Hofer is in the system for the team that knocked his hometown Winnipeg Jets out of the 2019 NHL playoffs on their way to winning a Stanley Cup.
He said he looks up to Blues netminder Jordan Binnington, another goalie who came seemingly out of nowhere to help his team win a coveted prize.
“It’s a pretty unbelievable story, with how he came into the league and how he made the most of his opportunity,” Hofer said of Binnington, who had only played one NHL game before his call-up in December 2018.
“He’s calm and cool and collected, kind of like how I strive to be. With the playoffs and the run against the Jets and all of those good teams, he’s someone I look up to.
“I’d like to be in his position someday, and if I get the opportunity to be in that position, it’ll be pretty special.”