New Komets goaltender Lukas Hafner anxious to get started in Fort Wayne

New Komets goaltender Lukas Hafner was part of two championship teams with Colorado. (Photo courtesy of Diane Madden/Colorado Eagles)

Lukas Hafner has had a remarkable first two years in professional hockey, and now he’d like something a little more normal which is one reason why the goaltender signed Monday with the Fort Wayne Komets.

“Fort Wayne was at the top of my list as soon as the season ended,” Hafner said. “When I got the call a couple of weeks ago from coach (Gary) Graham, I was just so excited. To have a chance to get a call from a team like Fort Wayne… They’ve been known as a great organization and a winning culture, and that was too good to say no.”

That’s partly because Hafner grew up in Toledo and went to Western Michigan University, and playing in Fort Wayne will allow his family to see him play more often. He won two ECHL Kelly Cup titles the last two seasons with Colorado, but there’s a pretty good story behind how he ended up with the Eagles.

“I bet nobody has had a crazier first-year pro than I did,” Hafner said.

The unique start to his pro career actually starts a little earlier. After finishing with Western Michigan in 2016, Hafner served as an emergency backup goaltender for Toledo before getting signed by Alaska where he played five games to finish the season.

He re-signed with the Aces over the summer, but Alaska got an affiliation so he was released out of training camp. He played five games with Columbus in the Southern Professional Hockey League before getting called back up to Alaska when the Aces’ goaltender was assigned to the American Hockey League. He played with Alaska from November to January, when the other goalie came back, meaning Hafner got released again even though he had exceptional numbers.

After flying from Alaska on a Friday to arrive in Knoxville, Tenn., on a Saturday morning, Hafner played a game for Columbus that night and on Monday was signed by Colorado on Feb. 6, his birthday. He met the team in Wichita on a Wednesday. When another goaltender was sent to the Eagles because of a trade, Hafner figured he was headed back to the SPHL, but another Colorado goaltender was traded. Hafner won the starting job with a 4-1 record and then he went 14-2 during the playoffs as the Eagles won their first Kelly Cup.

So before last season, the Eagles got a dual affiliation with the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues. Hafner spent the season playing behind Joe Cannata, getting in 20 regular-season games and two playoff games as the Eagles again won the championship.

So, yeah, he’d like a little bit of normal this season.

“This is my third year now, and it’s time to show that I can be a starting goalie in this league and win a lot of games for a team,” he said. “That’s all you can do. History shows that Fort Wayne is going to have a good team and I’m so excited. I think this is going to be the best opportunity to come in and prove myself. This was the right opportunity for me. Fort Wayne was where I wanted to be and to get it done.”

Komets General Manager David Franke said on Monday that Hafner’s signing means the Komets will likely move on from Garrett Bartus for next season, and rookie Cam Lanigan is questionable because he likely won’t be fully recovered from knee surgery until Thanksgiving. Franke said the team is continuing to talk with last season’s regular, Michael Houser.

“Hafner has played in some big games, and he really competes hard,” Franke said. “He’s a good goalie we feel is ready to break out and maybe take over the No. 1 job.”

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