Charlie Hoffman was in seventh-grade when he walked up to Ian O’Rear, his coach for the Northwest Chargers team in the Central States Development Hockey League (CSDHL), and told O’Rear that he was going to stop playing hockey and pursue baseball.
Hoffman was set to quit.
O’Rear simply told Hoffman that, if he were to quit hockey, he would regret the decision for the rest of his life.
“He was right … I could not imagine myself playing any other sport than hockey,” said Hoffman, 18, a senior in his third season on the Saint Viator varsity hockey team. “I am still so glad, to this day, that he convinced me to continue playing hockey.
“Hockey has given me the opportunity to meet so many new people and to play the game for my school. I could not imagine myself playing baseball over hockey today.”
Hoffman only played baseball for Viator as a freshman and is not still in contact with O’Rear. Hockey, though, is his jam, for sure. In his first 18 SHL games this season, he leads the team with 12 goals and 9 assists, and his 21 points lands him sixth-best in the league.
The left-handed shooting center has a league-leading 5 powerplay goals.
“Charlie is a big, strong forward,” said Viator head coach Tim Benz. “In terms of his skillsets, he is heavy on the puck with a heavy shot. His size and physical play make him a presence on the ice. He is a leader on and off the ice.”
Hoffman, the Viator captain who lives in Barrington, played for the Barrington Redwings as a mite, then the Chargers before joining the Lions. He is an SHL All-Academic Team member who skated for the Illinois High School Hockey State Championship as a sophomore.
The Lions’ loss to arch-rival Stevenson in 2022 at the United Center motivates Hoffman and his teammates this year.
“This may be the best Viator team since I have been at the school,” Hoffman said. “The amount of depth on the team is incredible and allows us to outwork our opponents. Every line on this team can be counted on to score goals and work hard, no matter what. While the team is relatively young, the hockey IQ and chemistry throughout the team is great.
“I think (the) team has begun to show the state what we are capable of.”
The Lions have already defeated Loyola Gold and Glenbrook North in league play, and they beat New Trier Green 3-1 in the semifinals of the 52nd annual O’Grady Thanksgiving Hockey Tournament, hosted by Loyola Academy.
Hoffman scored the Lions’ third goal against the Trevians on Sunday morning, November 26.
“The strength of Viator is the brotherhood and team depth,” Hoffman said. “Everything we do that is hockey-related, we do as a team. There is no individual effort on this team; everyone contributes their part and plays their role well. We win as a team and lose as a team. I think our greatest strength is our work ethic. No matter what team we play, Saint Viator players will work down the other team with constant physicality, speed and heart. This will be crucial in the (league) playoffs because other teams rely on just a few people to do the heavy lifting for (their) team.
“My ultimate team goal is to win the state championship and the SHL championship.”
The Lions skated into the Thanksgiving tournament following back-to-back wins over Stevenson – and beating the Patriots is also high on Viator’s to-do list.
Last season, for instance, Hoffman tallied the favorite goal of his career – in the Blackhawks Rivalry Series Game against Stevenson.
The game was tied, 4-4, in the second period in front of a standing-room-only crowd. Hoffman got a pass at the Viator defensive blue line and skated it toward the Patriots’ goal. “I put it through one defender’s stick and beat him to the
inside. I then toe-dragged another defender as I was being hit and proceeded to rip a shot bar-down for a huge goal,” he said.
Hoffman has 3 multi-goal games this season in league play and 8 combined multi-point games in SHL action and the Thanksgiving tournament’s five games.
Advancing to the finals of the Loyola Tournament was a “huge step” for Viator, he said. “Beating New Trier Green was a huge boost for the team. Knowing that we have played every SHL team and have won is a great confidence boost.
“We showed that we can play with anyone and beat them. We were able to put the puck in the net. Our neutral zone (play) and (our) forecheck were effective throughout the tournament, which contributed to our success. Although the outcome of the championship was not what we hoped for, we were competitive until the final period.”
Saint Ignatius stopped Viator in the finals, 5-1.
Hoffman scored the Lions’ lone goal against the Wolfpack, a second-period tally assisted by wing Sean Nutley and defenseman Finn Hogan.
Nutley, a senior, is linemates with Hoffman and the two have skated together all four years at Viator. They are joined on the team’s top line by junior wing Aidan O’Neill, who has been teammates with Hoffman since they were mites at Barrington.
Hoffman brings a fast-paced, physical, competitive approach to every shift.
“I use my speed and power to my advantage,” he said. “While I do not have the best stickhandling in the league, I can outwork the opponent and win one-on-one puck battles. Another strength is my powerful shot.”
And it’s a shot, er, shots that definitely have improved over last season.
He also this season has improved his playmaking and an increased overall hockey IQ. “This year, I have focused on finding my teammates and creating opportunities. In turn, the playmaking and chemistry between my linemates and I have resulted in scoring more goals,” he said. “I also have improved my shot placement and take more time to find an open shot lane.
“My playing style since my freshman year has increased tremendously. As a freshman, our season was cut short (by the pandemic) and I did not have benefits that I do now with Saint Viator. Skating four or five times a week and watching film with the team for the last four seasons has given me the opportunity to greatly improve my game. My freshman year, I had very little confidence with the puck and often relied on my teammates to create chances for me. As time went on, I realized that I have the capabilities to create my own chances and that I can put the puck in the net. Playing with 18-year-olds as a 15-year-old gave me plenty of experience and allowed me to adapt to varsity hockey.
“Since, I have improved my speed, my shot and my confidence with the puck.”
His motivation at Mount Prospect Ice Arena, home of the Lions, and elsewhere around the state is clear: score goals and win games.
“My inspiration this season is the state championship,” Hoffman said. “I have played hockey for more than 13 years, and this may be my final season. I believe this is the year for the Lions to make a push for the United Center in March. Losing to Stevenson my sophomore year motivates me to want to make a
run (at) state. It was disappointing to have worked so hard for something and lost it,” two years ago.
Hoffman likely will attend Miami University in Ohio next fall, where ACHA hockey is an option.
“If I’m not on the ice during summer, I am more than likely fishing,” he said. “One of my winter hobbies is skiing. It can be a bit tough to find time to ski with a busy hockey schedule so it is always nice to be able to hit the slopes.”
Gritty on the ice, Hoffman is not so off the ice. In fact, his off-ice life is quite the opposite. “I have never found myself in a situation more intense and heated than an SHL hockey game, which also is what I love about the sport of hockey and what the SHL has to offer.”
Yep, Hoffman made the correct decision by listening to Coach O’Rear – with a hockey stick in his hands as opposed to a Louisville Slugger.
• Saint Viator visits Loyola Gold in Lincolnwood on Saturday, December 2, starting at 6:10 p.m.