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
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.”