by Nicole Del Villano || AHL On The Beat Archive
Binghamton Senators forward Mike Hoffman has had his fair share of struggles on the way to being one of the American Hockey League’s leading scorers in 2013-14.
Born in Kitchener, Ont., Hoffman has been on skates as long as he’s been able to stand.
“I come from a big hockey family,” Hoffman said. “My dad played and I started when I was really young. At 3 years old, I was skating.”
Over time, Hoffman improved his skating and playing, eventually leading to a junior hockey career toward the end of the 2006-07 season when he played six games with the hometown Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League. But the next season, Kitchener cut Hoffman and no other OHL team showed interest in signing him.
He then moved to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to try his luck with the Gatineau Olympiques, but was cut again after posting only five goals and seven assists in 19 games played.
Hoffman’s luck began to change when Drummondville picked him up to complete the 2007-08 season.
Hoffman jumped onto the radar after a breakout season with the Voltigeurs in 2008-09. The center had 52 goals and 42 assists in 62 games in the regular season and 31 points during a 19-game playoff run. He gained the attention of many teams but was eventually drafted 130th overall by the Ottawa Senators at the age of 19.
“It’s all a process going junior or college,” Hoffman said. “I played three years in major junior in the Quebec League. In my second year, I got drafted by Ottawa and went back to play my over-age year.”
After being traded to the Saint John Sea Dogs, Hoffman recorded 85 points in 56 games played. His hard work made him the QMJHL’s Most Valuable Player and a member of the All-Star team along with record-breaking achievements. Hoffman also finished as a finalist for the CHL Player of the Year award, alongside Jordan Eberle and Tyler Seguin.
Following a successful final junior season, Hoffman made his professional debut with the Binghamton Senators in October 2010. Despite being a part of the 2011 Calder Cup championship team, Hoffman’s first season with the B-Sens was lackluster, putting up only 25 points in 74 regular-season games played.
“It’s not an easy adjustment going from junior to the professional level,” Hoffman said. “The guys are bigger and stronger. You’re not going to be a top player coming in your first year.”
He started to settle in during the 2011-12 season, leading the Senators in scoring while playing in all 76 regular-season games. Hoffman ranked first among the B-Sens with 21 assists and second in goals with 28.
Before he could have another successful run in the 2012-13 season, Hoffman sustained a broken collarbone on Jan. 26, 2013. He initially recovered after a month, but reinjured it 11 days later during a three-game stint with the Ottawa Senators.
“The first time it happened it was kind of a fluke,” Hoffman said. “I went into the boards kind of neck first and then the second time I reinjured it again up in Ottawa. I think it’s almost back to normal now and I don’t feel it at all anymore. I don’t want to change what I do on the ice.”
Hoffman refused to let the injury change his game coming into the current season. He is blowing up both the league’s leaderboards and B-Sens’ records, with 27 goals and 36 assists for 63 points in 48 games with Binghamton. The center is currently moving up in six different all-time franchise rankings, coming close to notable names like Jason Spezza, Josh Hennessy and Denis Hamel.
“The biggest part for me is a kind of confidence and knowing when to make plays,” Hoffman said. “I have some decent experience in this league and when to make the safe play. Confidence is the biggest thing.”
Confidence and skill paid off as head coach Luke Richardson made Hoffman one of the team’s alternate captains. While he may not be the most vocal guy when he is on the ice, Richardson finds Hoffman is loud when the team needs it and has the determination and work ethic that a captain needs.
“It’s not all scoring and points, but for a top-line guy he has that skill and desire to score goals. He loves it. We’re lucky to have him,” Richardson said. “He’s a fun guy. He likes to have a lot of fun and sometimes we have to remind him we have to put the work before the fun. It’s good though. He keeps it light but at the same time he likes to win.”
The 24-year-old Hoffman continued to shine at the AHL All-Star Classic last week. Eager to play alongside guys that he never met, Hoffman started out strong in the Skills Competition against Färjestad BK of the Swedish League, winning the CCM Fastest Skater contest with a time of 13.990 seconds. He earned another point for the AHL team with a successful attempt in the breakaway relay.
During the game last Wednesday night, Hoffman posted one goal and two assists to earn the AHL Player of the Game honor in the 7-2 victory. Both individual skill and the ability to work well with teammates allowed the rest of the AHL community to see exactly why Hoffman is a player to keep an eye on.
“Learning the game, as a coach would see it, has been his biggest thing this year and that will help him because he’s got the natural skill,” Richardson said. “Sometimes you can’t teach that. You can work hard at it but he’s got the god-given natural skill. He just has it.”
With one of his best seasons in the works and his contract up at the end of the year, it is hard not to question where Hoffman will be at the end of it all. For the time being Hoffman chooses to focus on the immediate future.
“Once the season is over I’ll start thinking about contract stuff but right now it’s not a priority,” Hoffman said. “We got a good group of guys here. We are pretty close and it shows out on the ice too. I don’t think playoffs are a different type of game but we are one of the top teams so I think it will be a good challenge for us.”
Richardson has no problem believing in the future for Hoffman both in the AHL and making his way back up to the NHL level.
“He’s showing himself well down here,” Richardson said. “Hopefully he gets another chance at [Ottawa] before the end of the year to show that he can do the same up there. We’re confident in him here and he just has to be patient. That will be the best service to himself for next year.”