HAVE PADS, WILL TRAVEL, WIN TI­TLE

Hafner was a goalie for hire half­way through the year. Four months later he was hoist­ing the Kelly Cup

The Hockey News - - In The Champion issue - – MIKE BROHARD

twice, Lukas Hafner was look­ing for a job. Then, on Feb. 6 – Hafner’s 25th birth­day – he got a call from Colorado Ea­gles coach Aaron Sch­neek­loth. The ECHL team had an open­ing for a backup goal­tender, and Hafner was on a plane. As it turned out, the gift was more for the Ea­gles. Af­ter play­ing in just five reg­u­lar sea­son games for Colorado, Hafner be­came the go-to goalie in the team’s run to its first Kelly Cup. “I don’t know if you could write a better story about a player,” Sch­neek­loth said. “When we grabbed him, we were in need of a goal­tender, and he knew the sit­u­a­tion, that he was go­ing to be in a sup­port­ing role and he needed to work for his op­por­tu­nity. When it came, he took ad­van­tage of it. He earned the re­spect of this team, and there’s no ques­tion how hard our guys played in front of him.”

Hafner was in net for 16 of Colorado’s 20 games in the ECHL play­offs, post­ing a 14-2 record, a 2.43 goal-against av­er­age and .903 save per­cent­age. He started all four games of the Kelly Cup fi­nal against South Carolina, a sweep closed out with a 2-1 vic­tory as Hafner kept the St­ingrays off the board for the fi­nal 42:15 of the con­test.

With the con­clu­sion of his sea­son being in such stark con­trast to the start, Hafner was over­whelmed by what tran­spired. “It’s un­be­liev­able,” he said. “I’m so thank­ful for ‘Sch­neeks’ and ‘Stew’ (GM Chris Ste­wart) and ‘Tobes’ (as­sis­tant coach Ryan Tobler) for giv­ing me the op­por­tu­nity. I was in Alaska twice this year. I got re­leased twice. To be able to go to the play­offs and then win a Kelly Cup with these guys, I’m just very blessed for the op­por­tu­nity.”

He only played five games with the Aces, win­ning three of them. Hafner’s fi­nal two games with Alaska came as 2016 ended and 2017 be­gan, a pair of vic­to­ries over – you guessed it – the Ea­gles. Then he was wear­ing Colorado’s sweater, back­ing up Clarke Saunders. When Saunders was loaned to the AHL’s San Jose Bar­racuda in March, the Ea­gles turned to Hafner to carry them through the play­offs. “He wouldn’t be on our team if we weren’t com­fort­able and con­fi­dent in his abil­i­ties, and he showed us that early,” said Sch­neek­loth, point­ing to Hafner’s 4-1-0 record in the reg­u­lar sea­son with Colorado. “He showed us that of­ten. He fit right in with our ex­pec­ta­tions off the ice and in the locker room. How do you not root for that guy?”

From backup to Kelly Cup-win­ning goalie, Hafner said the run has done a ton for his con­fi­dence, but he was too busy cel­e­brat­ing the mo­ment to pon­der what it might mean for his fu­ture. “I’m not wor­ried about the next chap­ter,” he said af­ter the clinch­ing win. “I’m just very ex­cited about get­ting this cham­pi­onship with these guys. This is a team I’ll never for­get, and we’ll have life­long friends and bonds from this, no doubt.”

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