Hofer’s NHL journey goes beyond one goal

Photo: Lucas Armstrong

📝 by Ryan Smith | AHL On The Beat

Joel Hofer knew that his name would forever be associated with what occurred on the evening of May 12, 2022, in Springfield.

In his first Calder Cup Playoff start, Hofer defeated Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 6-2, and in doing so, became the first goalie in the nearly century’s worth of AHL playoff action to shoot and score, a moment that made him an overnight sensation in the hockey world.

These days, though, the St. Louis Blues’ fourth-round pick in 2018 has other things on his brain, primarily a steadfast focus on being in the NHL sooner than later.

A deep playoff run with the Thunderbirds in 2022 only helped that vision.

“They are super intense,” Hofer said of the AHL playoffs. “Every team you’re playing is really good, and they’re all getting good pre-scouts on you. Every game is a challenge, and I thought that was really fun. Playoffs are why you play hockey — it’s where the big moments come, the most fun moments, and the moments you’re going to remember forever.”

Hofer’s empty-net goal may have drawn the attention, but his other notable figures shined just the same. He ended his first AHL playoff run with a .934 save percentage, six wins, a shutout, and a 2.56 goals-against average.

After Charlie Lindgren moved on to Washington in free agency, Hofer has become the undisputed top goaltender in Springfield, and that bump in playing time has only strengthened his development. The on-ice results in 2022-23 are hard to ignore. The AHL All-Star netminder sits fifth among all league goaltenders in wins (18) and eighth in save percentage (.918). The numbers are even gaudier in his last eight outings, where he is 7-1-0 with a .935 save percentage and a 2.22 GAA.

Hofer’s stellar puck handling ability is a differentiating factor, but the 22-year-old does not go far enough to say it was a God-given skill.

“The biggest thing for me was just getting the reps in,” Hofer said. “I think anybody has the ability to be a good puck handler; it’s just a matter of whether you’re getting the reps in and have the confidence to do it in a game situation. It’s something I think is really important in terms of helping out my defensemen and making life easier for them.”

The Blues have taken notice to Hofer’s progression and showed the hockey world that trust, recently agreeing with Hofer on a two-year contract extension. The contract is a one-way deal, and many pundits in hockey circles — both locally in St. Louis and nationwide — see it as the precursor to Hofer winning the Blues’ number-two goalie position next training camp behind Jordan Binnington.

A staunch competitor and rarely-ruffled prospect, Hofer knows better than to make assumptions.

“I know what it (the new contract) entails and that people are going to be talking about it, but I’m trying to focus on the things I can control,” Hofer said. “I’ll still have to go to camp and prove that I deserve to be there, and I plan to do that. I’m going to give it everything I can to prove that I earned the chance.”

Nevertheless, Hofer did readily admit having the contract in place does serve as a confidence boost.

“It’s nice to know they have that belief in me. Now that I have more games under my belt, I am getting more confidence with each and every game. I’ve learned a lot in my own game over the past two years in terms of what I need to do to be successful. Every game is a learning point, and I’m trying to carry that over game-to-game, and hopefully that will translate to the next level.”

He may be as laser-focused and intensely serious as any goaltending prospect across the AHL landscape, but don’t get it twisted — Hofer is immensely aware of his surroundings. Take his All-Star trip to Laval as an example. Of all the stars, perhaps nobody drew more ire from the Place Bell faithful than Hofer, who was an antagonist among many from the Thunderbirds side during their heated seven-game Eastern Conference Finals series with the Rocket last June.

“The Laval fans were unreal,” Hofer said with a smirk. “It’s an unbelievable environment to play in, and it was super cool that they remembered who I was.”

If the next year is any indication, there will be far more people in hockey circles far and wide who remember who Joel Hofer is.