In search of a move to raise their status as a contender in the Western Hockey League’s Western Conference, Portland Winterhawks Vice President, General Manager and Head Coach Mike Johnston made a big splash Wednesday morning.
In the deal, St. Louis Blues goaltending prospect Joel Hofer is the newest member of the U.S. Division club while the Winterhawks have sent six selections over the next three WHL Bantam Drafts to the Broncos as the defending WHL Champions look to continue their rebuild towards the future.
“We’d like to thank Joel for his contributions on and off the ice over his time in Swift Current,” said Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations Dean Brockman. “He leaves us as a WHL Champion and as an established goaltender.”
In the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft, the Broncos have acquired selections in the first and third round. In the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft, the Broncos acquired a second-round selection, a fourth-round selection, and a fifth-round selection. In the 2021 WHL Bantam Draft, the Broncos also receive a first-round selection from the Winterhawks.
It’s a steep price to pay, but a deal worth making in the eyes of Johnston as his team sits 11 points behind the Everett Silvertips for first place in the U.S. Division and Western Conference. With a talented forward core at his disposal that includes two of the leagues top 10 scorers in Joachim Blichfeld (San Jose Sharks) and captain Cody Glass (Vegas Golden Knights), the time to make a move was now.
“We are excited to add Joel to our group for the next two seasons,” Johnston said. “He has proven to be an elite goaltender in the Eastern Conference.”
Originally listed by the Broncos, the 18-year-old from Winnipeg, Man. has developed well among WHL goaltenders. Hofer joined the Broncos on a full-time basis at the start of the 2017-18 WHL Regular Season, posting an 8-3-1-1 record, 2.61 goals-against-average, 0.914 save percentage, and one shutout in 19 games. Hofer won his WHL debut, stopping 23 of 25 shots in a 5-2 win against the Saskatoon Blades on September 22, 2017.
Hofer then appeared in two games during the 2018 WHL Playoffs, playing a supporting role behind Edmonton Oilers prospect Stuart Skinner as the Broncos captured their first WHL Championship since 1993. In those two appearances, Hofer posted a 2.60 GAA and a 0.875 SV%, stopping 14 of 16 shots in 46 minutes of action.
At the 2018 National Hockey League Draft, Hofer was selected in the fourth round, 107th overall, by the Blues. Hofer was the top WHL goaltender selected at the draft.
This season, Hofer has been a key cog for the Broncos in their post-championship season, posting a 6-21-2-1 record, 4.02 GAA, 0.904 SV% and one shutout. That clean sheet came last Saturday as he recorded a 46-save shutout in a 1-0 win against the Regina Pats. Hofer leads the WHL in shots faced (1,257) and saves made (1,136).
Overall, Hofer has appeared in 49 WHL regular season games, posting a 14-24-3-2 record, 3.55 GAA, 0.907 SV%, and two shutouts.
Hofer will be going to a Manitoban-friendly team, with Glass, rookie forward Seth Jarvis, rookie defenceman Nick Cicek, and rookie goaltender Dante Giannuzzi all contributing to the Winterhawks’ success through their first 40 games.
Already 3-0 on their bi-annual road trip through the East Division, the Winterhawks will make their fourth of six stops on the road trip Wednesday, January 9 (7:00 p.m. CT) against the Regina Pats at the Brandt Centre.