Broncos' Goaltending Duo Poised for Prominent 2018-19 Campaigns
By. Eric James
A pair of young, Winnipeg-born goaltenders will be situated between the pipes this season for the Swift Current Broncos.
Filling the starter role this season, after spending time as the backup last year, is 18-year-old Joel Hofer. Behind him, 17-year-old rookie Isaac Poulter.
Hofer, a 6-foot-3 prospect of the St. Louis Blues, was reassigned to the Broncos earlier this week, just recently getting settled into life back in the southwest.
"As a kid, it's always a dream of yours to go to an NHL camp and all that stuff - it was everything that it lived up to, and I had lots of fun," said the Blues' 2018 fourth-round draft pick on his time south of the border.
"It was awesome to get there, meet all the other draft picks, and the guys that have been there for a couple years. The older guys were good in teaching me the ways, and kind of getting a feel to what it's like at the next level."
Hofer now gets to implement those learning experiences from an NHL training camp at the WHL level.
"Those guys are pros, they do all the little things right, and I think what they stressed a lot about is doing the little things right," he said. "Over a long period, that's going to pay off in the end. Whether it's doing a little extra in the gym, or doing a little recovery, it's all part of the plan."
It's a bit of a 180-degree rotation in the role Hofer will be serving on the Broncos in his 18-year-old season.
After learning life in the WHL from the likes of Logan Flodell and Stuart Skinner last season, Hofer will look to become perhaps a mentor of sorts for his new backup.
"Poults is obviously a great goalie, and he deserves to be here - his work ethic is outstanding," said Hofer of Poulter's game. "I was in his shoes last year, and from his perspective I guess, just to soak in everything he can. For me last year, I was sort of taking everything away from Stu and Flo, and I'm going to try and be as good of a role model to (Poulter), and teach him the ways."
"We're pretty good buddies, so we talked a lot," said Poulter, the rookie backup. "He just kind of told me some things that I need to do - make sure I'm working really hard in practice, make sure I'm getting a little better every day. No matter where - the weight room, or on the ice - just make sure I'm getting better all the time."
Poulter, who turned 17 this past Wednesday, was drafted in the sixth round (112th overall) of the 2016 by the Broncos, and just recently shone in net for his hometown Rink Hockey Academy Prep of the CSSHL. There, he posted a 1.68 goals-against-average and a .938 save percentage in 17 regular-season games. Poulter added a 2.21 goals-against-average and .920 save-percentage in five playoff games as well.
The 6-foot netminder seems more than happy to slot into a backup role in his first year with the Broncos heading into the 2018-19 season.
"I'm just really excited for the experience this year," said Poulter, who was a healthy scratch as the Broncos' third goalie in the playoffs this past season.
"For playoffs last year, it was a really good learning experience to see what Hof had to do to step up as back-up, earn that role, and earn the starts he got. I'm just trying to take the step that he took, do what he did, and hopefully get some starts and play some games. Just make sure I'm doing all I can to get better and improve during the season."
Poulter did get a pair of starts under his belt during the Broncos' preseason schedule. He played the home-and-home against the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the final two exhibition games.
Poulter turned aside 42 of 49 shots in a 7-0 loss in Lethbridge, but rebounded with resilience in a 5-1 win to close the preseason.
"That was unreal - the first game wasn't the way I was hoping to start my career with Swift, but that second game I thought everyone was way better," said Poulter, who stopped 23 of 24 shots in the win.
"We really took it upon ourselves to just play harder, play smarter out there. I felt I played a lot better in the second game too, and I got a lot more confidence, so I'm really excited for the start of the season - just see how it goes."
The new Broncos goaltending duo gets their first taste of the 2018-19 season tonight on an evening that will see the final celebration of the 2017-18 season.
The Broncos host the Saskatoon Blades at the Innovation Credit Union iPlex in the season-opener.
The team's 2018 WHL Championship banner will be raised to the rafters above the very ice surface that saw an elated captain Glenn Gawdin hoist the Ed Chynoweth Cup, soon swarmed by his equally-ecstatic teammates.
Seeing the team's banner join those of other legendary Broncos teams will be a surreal feeling for the Broncos new number one goalie.
"Last year we had a really special group of guys, and I'm really grateful that I could have been a part of it, especially at a young age," said Hofer, who carried a 2.61 goals-against-average and .914 save-percentage in 19 appearances last season.
"It's crucial to have that experience behind you. All the older guys - whether they were forwards, d-men, or goalies - they were all helpful in my progression, and I'm really grateful that I was a part of it."
Though Poulter was in the stands at the iPlex when the Broncos defeated the Everett Silvertips in the WHL Championship series this spring, the experience was one he won't be forgetting any time soon.
"Being there, and being able to go on the ice when we won was just crazy - seeing all the fans in the stands going nuts. I think it's going to be unreal to see that go up. We have those memories for the rest of my life - the ring, and all the other memories from that," he said.
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Hofer has been training with GDI for many years through 1v1 Lessons and the G1 Off-Season program. Poulter has trained with GDI through 1v1 Lessons, Summer Camps, Prospect Clinics and the G1 Off-Season Program. Poulter is also a graduate of the Rink Hockey Academy Nationals Midget Prep Team.