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Griffs’ Hofley emerges as a puck stopper

When Dave Smith describes his starting goaltender, he doesn’t talk about vision or rebound control or movement in the crease. Not at first.

What made Simon Hofley stand out to the Canisius College coaching staff was his competitive nature. He wanted to see a lot of shots. He wanted to stop every puck. He was willing and able to take the onus of a team’s championship run on his shoulders.

Hofley was the last member of the Golden Griffins’ freshman class, signing his National Letter of Intent in July after the program already had two goalies on the roster.

But his fellow freshman netminder Alex Savard left school before the season started, giving Hofley an opportunity to win the net from sophomore Reilly Turner.

That he has.

The 20-year-old from Ottawa has started the last seven games for Canisius and earned Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Week honors after stopping 91 shots in two games at Holy Cross, including a career-best 49 in a 2-2 tie.

That’s a lot of shots, but it’s something Hofley has been used to. In fact, it’s something that caught the eye of the Canisius coaching staff three years ago, when Hofley led his Ottawa 67’s team to the gold medal game of the Telus Cup – the national championship for AAA Midget hockey in Canada. He was named the top goaltender of the tournament, making 50 saves in the gold medal game and 225 in his six Telus Cup starts with a .933 save percentage.

“I’ve been told that I love a lot of shots,” Hofley said. “I remember sometimes when I was a kid I used to get pretty unfocused when we were all over the other team. I have to say I do like more than the average amount of shots per game.”

“He’s been a guy that has carried his team in the past and that’s something we knew in recruiting,” Smith said. “The ideal game plan doesn’t have us giving up 50 every night but he competes for every shot. It’s very simple for him. If he gets 20 or 40 or 50 he competes for every one. He wants to make every save and that’s a tremendous attribute to have for a goaltender.”

In hockey-speak, the attribute is known as “compete” and Hofley has plenty of that. He’s not a traditional calm, cool and collected presence in the net, but his competitiveness has a similar impact.

“I don’t think he’s a calming influence,” Smith said. “There’s lots of different ways to win and you don’t have to bottle just one. … I think there’s a fire that sits right on Simon’s shoulder that says ‘Hey I’m going to compete.’ That’s also calming. That’s reassuring. You know you’re going to get his best no matter what. Doesn’t always succeed, but you know he’s going to try his best and that in itself is calming.”

While Smith talks about fire and drive, Hofley has noticed the small improvements which have him backstopping Canisius to a second-half surge. The Griffs are on a four-game unbeaten streak and sit in fifth place in Atlantic Hockey – three points behind Air Force, whom they host for two games Friday and Saturday.

For Hofley, the keys to his recent success have been vision, movement and a little puck luck.

“Through the screens I was still managing to see pucks, which was really good, especially being a smaller goalie,” the 5-11 Hofley said. “I definitely have my footing. I felt fast. I felt great and my defense was giving me a lot of help. I got a few lucky bounces off the post too, which helped.”

The defense has played better in the second half of the season, a natural progression when four of your eight blueliners are freshmen. And that freshman class – 12 in all – is one of the reasons Hofley decided on Canisius.

“I thought it was a great opportunity. Canisius has a great business program which is what I’m in right now, business management,” Hofley said. “It sounded like there was a great group of guys here this year, a young group of guys especially with 12 freshmen coming in which kind of gives us a chance to make a name for our class in the hockey program. Canisius is an up-and-coming great hockey program and I wanted to be a part of it.”