WHL NOTEBOOK: Hoffrogge seizes new opportunity
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It’s been a wild eight-month stretch for Jacob Hoffrogge, but the defenceman is finally getting a massive opportunity in the Western Hockey League.
The former Brandon Wheat King was sent to the Everett Silvertips during the summer, and Everett in turn dealt him to the Edmonton Oil Kings at the trade deadline. Edmonton has proven to be a good spot for the five-foot-11, 160-pound defenceman from Saskatoon, who turned 20 on Feb. 18.
“Whenever I get traded, I’m obviously a little bummed but I always see it as opportunity,” Hoffrogge said. “Going from Brandon to Everett, the play style was definitely different, and not being able to play the States teams and B.C., the year before (due to the pandemic), it was a cool experience to play them.
“Coming from Everett to Edmonton, the way they treat their guys in Edmonton is just phenomenal. It’s another great experience. I get to play minutes that I haven’t played for a while. It’s really cool.”
Hoffrogge was the third of Brandon’s second-round picks in 2018, along with his former Wheat Kings teammate Brett Hyland and Dylan James, who skates with the University of North Dakota.
Hoffrogge was sent back to the Saskatchewan U18 AAA Hockey League’s Saskatoon Contacts for the 2019-20 season as a 16-year-old, and during the 2020-21 campaign, he joined the Wheat Kings for the abbreviated 24-game Regina hub season. Hoffrogge suited up for only five games, but was able to learn from team captain Braden Schneider, and also the team’s top pairing in 2021-22, Chad Nychuk and Vinny Iorio.
“Now that I think about it, I’m unbelievably grateful I was able to watch them play,” Hoffrogge said. “Being scratched a lot of the bubble games was hard but being able to watch those guys was phenomenal. I think I’m bringing most of my game off how they played.”
Last season, Hoffrogge was one of Brandon’s most improved players, posting nine assists in 62 games with 18 penalty minutes. Still, with an abundance of defencemen expected at camp, Brandon shipped him to Everett on July 14 for a seventh-round pick in 2024.
“I didn’t see it coming but I knew there was a lot of D coming in,” Hoffrogge said. “I was pretty bummed. I bonded with the guys a lot and loved all the guys so it hit me pretty hard.”
If there were some blessings to the deal, they would be the fact the trade was in July rather than mid-season, and second, the American-born defenceman would get his first chance to play in the United States.
“My dad (Steve) was joking about it ‘Finally we get to toss you off to the States,’” Hoffrogge said with a smile. “It was really cool. Again, I was pretty bummed but there were circumstances with being a 19-year-old. The overall experience was amazing.”
The U.S. Division is well known for its boisterous fans. The crowds in Seattle are especially wild and since Everett is just a short 45-km drive up Highway 5, the Thunderbirds and Silvertips have a lot of history.
“It pumps you up playing there more than anywhere else, especially when you went to Seattle,” Hoffrogge said. “Seattle and Everett have a big rivalry. One game, we went into overtime and lost and they were yelling ‘Everett sucks!’ as we went off the ice. It’s amazing and really cool.”
He celebrated a milestone on Oct. 8, 2022, when he scored his first WHL goal with a snapshot from the point that eluded Prince George Cougars goalie Ty Young 54 seconds into a 6-4 victory.
Unfortunately for Hoffrogge, he lost the opportunity to experience another milestone when he separated his AC joint in his shoulder in Regina four nights before they visited Brandon, so he didn’t get quite the homecoming he hoped for as he watched from the stands.
While Hoffrogge’s tenure in Everett wasn’t a long one, he impressed Silvertips head coach and general manager Dennis Williams.
“A lot of times when we make trades, obviously it’s hockey related, but it’s also character and the person themselves,” Williams said when the team visited Brandon in November. “He lives with Dominik Rymon, our boy from Czechia whose English isn’t very good, but he’s gotten so much better because of Froggy helping him. He’s just a great, great teammate and a great young man.
“We play a little different style so it takes a bit to get used to the way we play here, and everybody has their own identity as a team, but I couldn’t be happier with what he’s brought to our lineup and what he’s brought to our locker room and the maturity and leadership he’s shown.”
Still, the Silvertips made the decision to deal him to the Oil Kings on Jan. 9 for a seventh-round pick in 2025.
When he showed up in Edmonton, he was expected to be a leader, something he hadn’t experienced since he was playing U18 in Saskatoon. But he’s embraced the role.
“I’m not used to it but I’m really trying to be a leader,” Hoffrogge said. “I’m hoping to look for a C or an A next year. It would be really cool if I could do that.”
Overall, Hoffrogge has two goals and 13 assists in 45 games this season, with a career-high three helpers in a 5-1 win over the Calgary Hitmen on Feb. 4.
Edmonton has struggled after winning the league title last spring, with graduations and a number of trades that have resulted in a record of 9-49-4-0. While losing isn’t easy, Hoffrogge chooses to see the positives.
“Obviously when I first came it was pretty tough,” Hoffrogge said. “I’m used to winning, but now that I see it, it’s definitely a rebuilding phase with a lot of young guys. I think we have the youngest team in the league but the way I see it, I think next year we’ll be a great team. I think we just need to gel and get to know each other. A lot of guys have been in and out and a lot of guys got traded.”
Hoffrogge has had two chances to play in Brandon since the trade, with the Oil Kings losing 4-1 on Feb. 10 and getting blown out 10-2 on Saturday. Hoffrogge received a loud Bronx cheer from the fans when he and Brandon’s Matt Henry took coincidental minors with less than two minutes on the weekend and were shown the gate.
“Other than tonight, I’ve always loved the fans,” Hoffrogge said with a chuckle. “I’m so used to the team here and the way everything works. It’s always nice to come back here and see all the guys.”
He’s no longer on the Brandon group chat, but he texts his former Wheat Kings teammates from time to time. Oddly, he’s close friends with a guy who didn’t play in Brandon when he did, fellow Saskatoon product Nolan Flamand.
“We were never teammates in Saskatoon — we always played against each other — but he’s a childhood buddy and it’s nice to play against him,” Hoffrogge said.
They certainly had plenty of chances to share the ice on Saturday, since Hoffrogge is logging a lot of ice time in Edmonton.
Oil Kings head coach Luke Pierce said after Saturday’s game that Hoffrogge has been a nice addition in his two months with the club.
“His skill level has really helped us, and his ability to carry pucks and make plays and drive our offence,” Pierce said. “Just his passion that he plays the game with, he’s been a really good example for some our young defencemen on the intensity that you need to bring to the game every night.
“It’s a unique situation for him being leaned on to be a bit of a leader, and he’s had his ups and downs with it, but overall he’s been a real positive contributor to our team.”
While Edmonton’s playoff fate was decided a long time ago, Hoffrogge is hopeful his youthful club can win a couple more games and that more success can springboard he and his teammates into training camp next fall.
If an Edmonton club that’s one year older and one year wiser can move up the standings next season, they’ll be following the template Hoffrogge has used in becoming a meaningful WHL contributor.
“My bubble year and then my 18-year-old year in Brandon, I was just trying to get my feet wet, move the puck quickly and do all the right things,” Hoffrogge said. “When I went to Everett and now in Edmonton and especially as I grow older, I’m seeing that offensive game come back to me. The intensity and using my skating is my biggest asset, and my hockey IQ, I think I can use that a lot.
“I think it’s all just gelling together and I’m becoming a more complete hockey player.”
THIS AND THAT
• QUIZ — Since Brandon hired one of its coaching legends to step behind the bench for the 1992-93 season, how many different head coaches has it employed? For bonus points, how many general managers have worked for the team in that time?
• WEEKLY AWARDS — Kelowna Rockets captain Gabriel Szturc was named player of the week after posting eight points on three goals, including one in overtime, and five assists. He also had a shootout winner. The 19-year-old product of Cesky Tesin, Czechia is ranked 181st among North American skaters on the most recent Central Scouting rankings.
In net, Matthew Kieper of the Kamloops Blazers was named goaltender of the week. The 19-year-old goalie from Winnipeg won both his starts, with a 0.50 goals-against average and .981 save percentage.
• SIN BIN — A pair of players are still waiting to find out how long they’ll be suspended for their actions in games on Friday. Dawson Seitz of the Edmonton Oil Kings took a boarding major and game misconduct against the Winnipeg Ice, and Carson Golder of the Kelowna Rockets was assessed a check-to-the-head major and game misconduct against the Vancouver Giants.
• SIGNING — Portland Winterhawks defenceman Marek Alscher inked a three-year, entry-level contract with the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers on Monday. The 18-year-old defender from Slany, Czechia was a third-round pick by Florida in 2022.
• ALUMNI GLANCE — Defenceman Kade Jensen is in his fourth year at Mount Royal University, where he’s studying architecture. He had a goal and four assists in 23 games, and has suited up for 89 regular season games in his U Sports career. Jensen was acquired from the Swift Current Broncos on Jan. 10, 2017 as part of the Jordan Papirny deal that saw Brandon also send a fourth-round draft pick in 2018 in exchange for goalie Travis Child, Jensen and second- and fifth-round picks in 2019. Jensen played 57 games with the Wheat Kings, recording three goals, seven assists and 99 penalty minutes. His time with the Wheat Kings ended on on Dec. 1, 2017 when he was sent to the Victoria Royals for a fifth-round draft pick in the 2018 draft after the team settled on goalie Logan Thompson, defenceman James Shearer and forward Evan Weinger as its overage contingent.
• THE WEEK AHEAD — Brandon visits the Regina Pats on Wednesday, hosts the Prince Albert Raiders on Friday and heads to Saskatoon to meet the Blades on Saturday. They finish up with a home-and-home series against Winnipeg on March 24 and 25. The game in Winnipeg on March 25 has been shifted from a 7:05 start to 6:05.
• ANSWER — Brandon has employed 10 different head coaches in the last 31 seasons. They are Bob Lowes (1992-2001), Dean Clark (2001-03), Mike Kelly (2003-04), Kelly McCrimmon (end of 2003-04 season, 2004-10, 2013-16), Cory Clouston (2011-12), Dwayne Gylywoychuk (2012-13), David Anning (2016-19), Dave Lowry (2019-20), Don MacGillivray (2020-22) and Marty Murray (half of 2022-23 season).
Their five general managers have been Kelly McCrimmon (1989-2016), Grant Armstrong (2016-19), Darren Ritchie (2019-21), Doug Gasper (2021-22) and Marty Murray (2022-23).