Kip Hoffmann grabbed a loose puck and skated up the right side of the ice sheet at the Janesville Ice Arena.
With the North American Hockey League’s three-on-three overtime rules, seeing a player skate end-to-end is fairly common during the frenzied five minutes of a sudden-death period.
But Hoffmann’s finish to the play was anything but ordinary.
He carried the offensive zone while skating up the near-side boards and then veered to his left in an attempt to slash toward the net. A surprised defenseman fell behind and dragged Hoffmann down. Sliding toward the Brookings goalie with his butt cheeks planted firmly to the ice, Hoffmann managed to get his stick to the puck and lifted it over the goalie’s shoulder.
Twenty-four seconds into the overtime, Hoffmann ended a ridiculous game against the Blizzard, giving the Jets a 6-5 victory and himself an addition to his career highlight reel.
“It was pretty sweet. I’ve watched it a few times,” Hoffmann said in the days following that Dec. 1 game. “I just kept my feet moving and just somehow tipped it with the back of my stick.”
The goal, and Hoffman’s description of it, seem to perfectly summarize his career with the Jets.
Hoffmann is the first player in franchise history to spend four years in Janesville. In that time, the forward has gone from role player to top-level scoring threat. And now, after passing up one chance to play Division I college hockey, he’s hoping a more well-rounded game is about to land him another college opportunity as the Jets get set for the second half of this season.
To steal Hoffmann’s words, he’s just kept his feet moving.
Putting up points
If Hoffmann’s third season in Janesville was his breakout year, statistically, then the playoffs were a heaping pile of frosting on his celebratory cake.
He finished with 16 goals and 16 assists in 46 regular-season games a year ago. Then, in the playoffs, he led the Jets to the Robertson Cup semifinals for the second time in three years, scoring nine goals and adding four assists in nine postseason games along the way.
“He’s been a tremendous hockey player and a tremendous human being since he got here,” said Bill McCoshen, Jets team president and part owner. “He was just a kid when he got here, and he played on spectacular teams. Now he’s positioned himself to be the leader on this team, and he’s excelling.
“When he’s on, we’ve got a chance to win every night.”
Hoffman has carried momentum through to his fourth and final season in Janesville.
Nearing the official midway point of the NAHL season, the Jets are tied for second in the Midwest Division.
Hoffmann and teammate Jakov Novak are tied for seventh in the league in points scored, with 30. Hoffmann has 12 goals and 18 assists in 27 games.
“I think I’m taking a lot more pride in playing in the defensive zone. Getting the puck out will lead to more offensive chances,” Hoffmann said. “Last year, I kind of just played a one-dimensional game. This year ... I have to play a two-way game.”
A winding road
The scoring statistics didn’t always tally up so quickly.
Hoffmann’s numbers from his first two seasons in Janesville don’t exactly leap off the page. In 100 games, between the regular season and playoffs, the Huntley, Illinois, native totaled 14 goals and 23 assists.
Still, his work ethic, offensive skills and upside were enough to catch the attention of college scouts. Hoffmann verbally committed to play for Alaska Anchorage in September 2015.
In the end, though, he decided Alaska was simply too far away.
“I thought it wasn’t my best interest to be 60 hours away from home,” he said. “I kind of opened up my options to stay closer to home and try and get that scholarship to a closer school.”
So Hoffmann found himself back in Janesville for last year’s successful campaign.
He certainly doesn’t mind sticking around. Hoffmann has grown to enjoy the city, and the fact that family can make the short drive north to watch his home games is a bonus.
But he also admits he never expected to play a full four years of junior hockey with the Jets.
“From the start of my career, I always told myself my goal was not to be a 20-year-old in this league,” Hoffmann said. “But everyone’s path is different. Everyone can’t take the same course. I’m extremely happy being here in Janesville and having 20 other brothers in the locker room I can share this with.”
Gary Shuchuk was heavily involved with recruiting players from the junior ranks to play Division I hockey, including stints as an assistant coach at the University of Wisconsin and Northern Michigan.
He knows there can be a bit of a stigma with players who spend all four years in one league or with one junior team. It’s part of the reason the first-year Jets head coach is staking his name to Hoffmann’s game in an effort to get his player the attention he believes he deserves.
“I’m putting my name and reputation on this kid,” Shuchuk said. “I tell coaches he’s changed, that he’s learned to play a complete 200-foot game. ... They say, ‘Really?’ I say, ‘Watch the tape,’ and they agree.
“You’ve got to be able to play defense, play your own zone and get the puck and play it out. I think that’s noticeable in his game. He’s playing a 200-foot game—backchecking hard, blocking shots and playing great defensively. And he’s getting rewarded.”
A captain to lean on
Spending four seasons with one junior team may seem odd to some, but in some ways it’s also impressive.
How many other young players could say both their game and their personality could mesh well enough in four different locker rooms over four years without being shipped out or traded away?
“He’s just so hard-working and comes to the rink every day with a smile on his face,” said Novak, who serves as a Jets alternate captain. “All the guys look up to him as someone they want to be.”
Hoffmann is approaching several Jets career milestones. He needs to play in nine more games to becoming the franchise’s all-time leader in games played. He’s tied for third with Janesville native Ross Mauermann with 99 career points and is top-five in both career goals and assists.
In the arena, Hoffmann often uses his energy level to pump up the crowd. Outside of it, he’s one of the more outgoing players on a team that annually leads the way in community service in Janesville and surrounding communities.
“He’s always willing to do community service and to get the other guys involved,” McCoshen said. “He’s a kid you never have to worry about off the ice. He’s been a great ambassador for the organization.
“We’ve never had a four-year guy before. ... We, historically, haven’t kept players that long. But he’s been good for us, and we think we’ve been good for him. Now we just need to get his deal done with a D-I school.”
After three and a half seasons, Hoffmann has accomplished or is accomplishing many of his junior hockey goals.
Outside of securing a Division I scholarship offer (he continues to have conversations with teams), perhaps the only other thing left on the list is helping the Jets to a Roberston Cup championship.
“I’m happy with where I’m at, and if nothing works out, there’s much more to life than hockey,” Hoffmann said. “But right now my main goals are to get that D-I scholarship and keep winning hockey games with these guys.”
Of course, another highlight-reel, game-winning goal going viral on Twitter wouldn’t be all that bad, either.