Watching the world junior hockey championship over the Christmas break has always been a big deal for Joel Hofer. This year, he may get a chance to play a part in the holiday classic.
The 19-year-old Winnipegger, who plays for the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks, was one of four goaltenders named Monday to the 31-man selection camp roster for Team Canada.
"Growing up and being from Winnipeg, it’s a big hockey city and the kids my age would wake up at 6 a.m. whenever it was in Europe (to watch), and we’d have sleepovers and get up early to watch the world juniors," Hofer said via telephone. "It’s a huge part of the holidays and it’s always been a big thing for me."
The 6-5 Hofer, chosen in the fourth round of the 2018 NHL draft by the St. Louis Blues, will have some tough competition for a roster spot when the group convenes in Oakville, Ont., Dec. 9-12.
The other goaltenders invited are Nico Daws (Guelph, OHL), Hunter Jones (Peterborough, OHL), and Olivier Rodrigue (Moncton, QMJHL). Three goaltenders are expected to make the final 23-man Canadian team, which will travel to Ostrava, Czech Republic, for the tournament, which runs Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.
"I’ve had a pretty good season up until now and I obviously have to say thanks to my teammates for playing good hockey," said Hofer, who leads the WHL with a 1.92 goals-against average and is second with a .935 save percentage. "They do a ton of things that kinda go unnoticed, whether it’s blocking shots or whatever. But it’s good to get that recognition."
The invite from Hockey Canada is a first for Hofer, who has never played internationally for his country.
"I didn’t get invited to summer camp and I kinda used that as motivation to fuel me in a sense, where I want to make a push and make the world junior team," Hofer said. "It was in my control with how I wanted to take things. I could have dwelled on it and got mad about it."
Five first-round NHL draft picks are part of the WHL contingent heading to the Canadian selection camp, including centre Peyton Krebs of the Winnipeg Ice (17th overall in 2019, Vegas), Spokane Chiefs defenceman Ty Smith (17th overall in 2018, New Jersey), Vancouver Giants blue-liner Bowen Byram (fourth overall in 2019, Colorado), centre Dylan Cozens of the Lethbridge Hurricanes (seventh overall in 2019, Buffalo) and forward Nolan Foote of the Kelowna Rockets (27th overall in 2019, Tampa Bay).
The two remaining WHLers invited are a pair of defencemen: Brandon-born Calen Addison of the Hurricanes (53rd overall in 2018, Pittsburgh) and Braden Schneider of the Brandon Wheat Kings. Schneider, who hails from Prince Albert, Sask., is eligible for the 2020 draft.
NOTEWORTHY: Ice forward Nino Kinder has received an invitation to attend the German selection camp while left-winger Michal Teply is likely to receive his from the Czech team shortly... University of Wisconsin centre Dylan Holloway, whose WHL rights are owned by the Ice, was also named to the Canadian camp roster.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.