Friday, November 5, 2021

From world juniors to NHL, Joel Hofer debuted for the Blues, not only won, had assist in 5-3 win against Sharks

Goalie was bombarded early, settled in nicely making 23 
saves to help Blues offset loss of Husso inside COVID-19 protocol

Playing in his first NHL game, Joel Hofer had to be hoping to ease into it.

Not a chance. That would have made the goalie's night too easy.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Joel Hofer adjusts his mask in his NHL debut on Thursday, a
5-3 win over the San Jose Sharks Thursday at SAP Center.

So when the Blues, who downed the San Jose Sharks 5-3 Thursday at SAP Center in San Jose to give Hofer his first win, began the game with a plethora of penalties, eight minutes of them to be exact to three different players, including Ivan Barbashev's four-minute high-sticking penalty in a 49-second span, it spelled trouble for the 21-year-old fourth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

"That was definitely crazy," Hofer said. "We obviously got into some penalty trouble, but I thought we did a pretty good job at killing it and the four-minute (penalty), that kind of sucks, but it is what it is. After that, we got our legs under us."

The Blues (7-1-1) escaped the Sharks (6-4-0) having over seven minutes of power play time and came out of it dead-even at 1-1 despite giving up just one power-play goal to Brent Burns out of all that and getting a shorthanded tally from Brandon Saad, the first of two goals for Saad. 

Hofer, whose parents Steve and Elaine couldn't be in attendance having to travel from Canada to do so, would allow two goals in the period and when San Jose went up 3-2 in the second on their 14th shot of the game, Hofeer settled in and made the final 12 saves to not only get his first win of his NHL career in his first start, bevoming the first Blues goalie to win his first NHL start since Cody Rudkowsky at Edmonton Oct. 24, 2002, he also got an assist on Robert Thomas' empty-net goal that sealed the win.

"I didn't do much with it," Hofer said after making 23 saves. "I gave a pretty simple pass, but 'Pary' (Colton Parayko) made a good flip pass to 'Tommer' and obviously put it in. It's nice though."

Hofer was playing with backup Ville Husso in St. Louis in the league's COVID-19 protocol and Jordan Binnington getting the night off after making 33 saves in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday.

It would have been a night in which Husso would get the start, but pressed into action, Hofer settled in nicely and stopped the final 12 shots he would face.

"I think he did a good job," Saad said. "We took a lot of penalties, he saw a lot of action early on especially. Obviously we're all excited for him. It's a big first win and a special moment for him."

Hofer found out on gameday he would be between the pipes and took advantage of the opportunity. This is a player thrust into action at the 2020 World Junior Championship and helped Canada win gold by going 5-0-0 with a 1.60 goals-against average, .939 save percentage and one shutout.

At 21 years, 97 days, Hofer became the youngest goalie to win his NHL debut with the Blues, previously set by Michel Plasse on March 30, 1971 (22 years, 302 days).

"I found out this morning. It was obviously a lot of emotions going through my head," Hofer said of his NHL debut. "It's super special. You dream of it your whole life and to get the win in the first game, too, is just the cherry on top."

Burns and Logan Couture (shorthanded) scored first-period goals and Nick Merkley's redirection at 4:49 of the second period would be the final goal Hofer would allow past him. He kept the fortress locked the final 35:11, enabling the Blues to score the final three goals of the game.

"Hofer was great in net," said veteran forward James Neal, who made it 4-3 at 11:42 of the second and turned out to be the game-winning goal. "... Maybe some d-men talked to him a little bit, but I think just the way he was preparing tonight, I think he was in a zone and he was ready to go. He had lots of shots early with the power plays they got. He was ready to go, he did a great job standing in there and made some big saves for us."

Perhaps getting bombarded actually helped Hofer settle in. The Sharks threw eight shots on goal during that power-play sequence but could not get a lead.

"I think he did (settle in)," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "I think we did a good job in front of him too, but it's his first NHL game and you start a period with 5-on-3 for I don't know how long, four minutes or however long it was. That's tough, but he battled and good job and the team did a good job in front of him.

"... You need two goalies in this league now. We all know that. With Husso out of the lineup, we needed Hofer to step up and he did and won us a game."

With the game already being so scrambly in the first period, Hofer made one of those rare how-did-he-make-that-save moments by kicking up his legs with the puck behind him and keeping the puck out of the net.

Perhaps it was that very play that enabled the confidence to show.

"I'm just trying to battle out there doing anything I can to not let in any goals," Hofer said. "I'm taking lots of deep breaths. That personally helps me a lot. Just treat it like any other game and just go out there and have fun. I think that was the biggest thing for me no matter what. As long as I had fun out there, it was a dream-come-true for me, so it was pretty special."

Hofer got off to a 3-0-1 start with a 1.74 GAA and .936 save percentage with Springfield (Mass.) of the American Hockey League and was obviously feeling confident there before unexpectedly getting the call to make his way to St. Louis and the NHL.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Joel Hofer (left) covers a loose puck in front of Sharks
forward William Eklund (middle) Thursday at SAP Center.

"Obviously you want to get to the NHL as quick as you can," Hofer said. "I'm obviously super-grateful for the opportunity. It's something I'll never forget.

"It helps a lot knowing they got my back and I've got theirs. I obviously got lots of support from the guys."

Hofer worked himself into good graces with the organization when he came and worked with the Blues during the COVID-shortened season, earned the coaching staff's trust and was thrust into action Thursday, passing with decent colors.

"Every day I just try to go out there and do my best and focus on the things I can control, " Hofer said, "whether that's work ethic or effort or any of that stuff, but I'm super grateful I'm given the opportunity to come up here and play games, definitely super-special and thanks to them."

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