One of Those Guys
Vermont's Hoffman Emerges as Reliable Young Goaltender
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
Vermont hosts Boston College this weekend in the final regular-season series for both teams. The Eagles, as they typically are, enter the weekend with a realistic chance of winning yet another trophy. They're a lock for the NCAA tournament and among the favorites for both the Hockey East and national championships. Their goaltender Parker Milner is on the shortlist for the best in the country.
Standing 200 feet from Milner come Friday night at Gutterson Fieldhouse in Burlington, Vt., will be Brody Hoffman. Most overlook Hoffman in discussions about the league's best freshmen. He barely registers in conversations about the league's best goaltenders, as well. It's hard to suggest he belongs in these talks, but one thing is clear: Vermont belongs in the Hockey East tournament, and Hoffman is a major reason.
Hoffman has started all 32 games for the Catamounts this season. His goals-against average and save percentage (2.71 and .908) aren't the gaudy numbers amassed by truly elite NCAA netminders. They are, however, a drastic improvement from the Catamount netminders of last season. This change for the better has Vermont in line for a Hockey East tournament berth. It enters the weekend in seventh place in Hockey East and can clinch a playoff berth with a win or some losses from the clubs on its heels.
With little goaltending experience on the roster, UVM coach Kevin Sneddon and his former assistant coaches John Micheletto and Joey Gasparini sought a goaltender that met certain criteria. Since the player would essentially be asked to become a No. 1 goaltender just weeks after his first semester in college began, he needed experience. He needed to be motivated, driven by little more than the desire to be better today than he was yesterday. The staff found their guy in Fort McMurray, Alberta, a sleepy oil town about nine hours north of Edmonton.
"We had identified that goaltender was going to be an area of need for us with Rob Madore graduating," Sneddon said. "The type of player we needed was going to be someone with a lot of experience in junior hockey. John Micheletto identified Brody as someone that could come in and had experience."
Hoffman led the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League to Game 7 of its championship game last year in his only season with the club. For the previous two seasons, he played on less successful teams in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. Despite the mixed results, the more than 115 appearances he made in junior hockey gave him the resume the UVM staff sought. The size of Burlington and the Vermont campus made a role at the university an easy sell.
"We liked him, and we were very aggressive from the start as far as letting him know about Vermont," Sneddon said. "We thought he would like the school given his background, being a small-town kid from Wilkie, Saskatchewan. We made an offer early in the process, and he committed."
Since arriving in Burlington, Hoffman worked to improve with Sneddon and UVM goaltending coach Terry Lovelette. Learning to compete at the NCAA level took some time, as did elevating his game to deal with the faster, more mature players in Hockey East.
"He really has the perfect mindset to become a quality goaltender as this level," Lovelette said. "Playing junior hockey, you don't spend as much time practicing. He's a big kid, obviously, but we needed to work on certain things. It's about developing good habits through repetition. We worked economy of motion from the start. He's so eager to learn and improve."
His work with Lovelette, Sneddon and fellow goaltenders Billy Faust and John Vazzano has helped Hoffman become a reliable Division I goaltender at this stage. Last weekend, a series of game-changing saves against Boston University kept the game scoreless in the first period, allowing UVM to build a lead that became a 5-2 win. Without those points, the Catamounts would enter this weekend tied for eighth with its playoff hopes even less certain.
"It's just my goal to give our team a chance to win," Hoffman said. "I made some saves early, and then we got a shorthanded goal. BU's a good team, so they scored some goals. But it was important for us to get that win."
The saves Hoffman made in the win over the Terriers offset mistakes made by the Catamount skaters. Even the best teams allow those opportunities, but Hoffman's development since he arrived in Burlington has helped eliminate many of the goals that resulted from those mishaps.
"He made a couple saves in the BU game that were just sensational saves," Lovelette said. "Because he made those saves, the rest of the team was able to rally and get a big win."
Despite the strong performance, Hoffman quickly moved on, as he almost always does. Good start or bad. Win, lose or tie. Hoffman is quick to identify the mistakes he made in a game and correct the issues before they become bad habits.
Lovelette said Hoffman communicates constantly with his coaches about problems he experienced during games. Earlier this season, Vermont took three of four points from a two-game series with Maine. Hoffman saved 67 of 70 shots over the weekend. However, he and Lovelette were already talking about points to focus on the next week in practice while the team rode back from Maine.
"I remember after the weekend with Maine; that was a good weekend for Brody," Lovelette said. "He was texting me about some of the problems he had, so we could talk about and work on them in practice. He's just always trying to get better."
With Boston College coming to town Friday night, Hoffman and his team expect a challenge. The Catamounts have had the most difficult schedule in Hockey East down the stretch, with two-games series against New Hampshire, BU and now Boston College to end the regular season. None of that affects Hoffman's preparation or his own expectations, just as being picked to finish 10th in Hockey East by both the coaches and the media.
"I kind of took it personally," Hoffman said. "We know that people don't think we're as good as the other teams in this league, but we use it all just to work harder. We took a point from UNH a few weeks ago, and we got a win at BU. I'm just going to focus on playing well, that's all I can control."
The eventual results of this weekend's games won't cloud the success that has been Hoffman's first season with UVM. Even a pair of shutouts wouldn't improve his standing among the league's top goaltenders. Sneddon and his staff are excited, though, about Hoffman's final three years at UVM.
"It's going to be pretty hard to score goals in this league in the next couple years with guys like Sam Marotta at Merrimack, Jon Gillies at Providence and Connor Hellbuyck at Lowell," Sneddon said. "Those guys are as good as it gets in college hockey. We think Hoff can be one of those guys."