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Hafner gets chance to shine

December 26, 2018

Lukas Hafner has a Cup-winning résumé : he backstopped the Colorado Eagles to the ECHL’s 2017 Kelly Cup : but he is also well versed in what it takes to be the backup goaltender.

“If you’re not in for a while, you’ve got to make sure you’re hitting the gym, staying in shape, so whenever that opportunity comes you can make the most of it,” Hafner said.

Hafner has been reliable in his first season for the Komets (14-12-1) : at times outplaying counterpart Zach Fucale : and he took full advantage of an early-season stint when Fucale had been called up to Chicago of the American Hockey League. He’s getting another major shot with Fucale representing Canada in Davos, Switzerland, at the Spengler Cup.

Fucale, who left early Saturday, is expected to miss four more games, starting with Thursday’s 7:30 p.m. game at Memorial Coliseum against the Kalamazoo Wings (14-13-1).

Eric Levine should get at least one start while Fucale is gone, but Hafner will see the bulk of the work, almost certainly including this Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. Coliseum game against the league-leading Cincinnati Cyclones (20-5-4).

That’s the life of a No. 2 netminder; you’ve always got to be ready for the unexpected, be it an injury or bad game for the other guy, or something such as the Spengler Cup.

“It can be tough,” Hafner said. “At the start of the year, I was getting a lot of games. Then, you know, you go back and forth. All it comes down to is being even keel, if you’re not going to play for a week or if you do back-to-back nights. You’ve got to work hard and, whenever you’re in there, just take advantage of your opportunities.”

Hafner, 26, is 6-6-0 with a 2.72 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage. Fucale, by comparison, is 8-5-0 with a 2.99 GAA and a .896 SP, though his numbers are still skewed by early season struggles and defensive lapses in front of him.

“For us, it’s how we play in front of our goalies,” Komets coach Gary Graham said.

Graham said Hafner may be a little more apt to play the puck than Fucale, but Hafner said part of a good goaltending tandem is not noticing much of a difference.

“I guess you don’t want it any different, that’s the biggest thing. You want it so, whichever guy is in the net that night, the team has a chance to win,” said Hafner, who is coming off a 21-save 5-2 victory over the rival Toledo Walleye (19-6-2). “I wasn’t happy with my last couple of games so it was good to come in (Saturday) night and the team played absolutely phenomenal to get a win before we went home for Christmas and that was a great feeling.”

Hafner, who played his college hockey at Western Michigan from 2012 to 2016, spent his rookie season with the Southern Professional Hockey League’s Columbus Cottonmouths, the ECHL’s Alaska Aces and the Eagles, going 4-1-0 with a 2.62 GAA and a .926 SP for the latter.

In the 2017 playoffs, he was 14-2 with a 2.43 GAA and a .903 SP en route to the Cup.

Last season, he backed up Joe Cannata with Colorado : Hafner, 6-foot-1, was 13-4-2 with a 3.12 GAA and a .897 SP : and Cannata led the Eagles past the Komets in overtime of Game 7 of the Western Conference finals as they won another Cup.

Hafner, a native of Toledo, has gone 1-2-0 with a .911 SP in the season series with the Walleye. He’s likely to play in his hometown 7:15 p.m. Sunday, as the Komets try to improve upon their 2-3-1 season record against their rival.

“It makes it a lot of fun to play against guys you know and guys you skate with in the summer and stuff. It just makes the whole thing a little bit more fun,” said Hafner, adding he feels no more pressure playing against Toledo, and former Western Michigan teammate Shane Berschbach or ex-Colorado teammate Matt Register, than any other team.

“I don’t know about that. It’s more about winning bragging rights in the summer skates. But at the end of the day, it’s about the two points and that’s what matters.”

jcohn@jg.net

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