Peter Pans Out
Harvard Captain Hafner Leads Crimson Into the Playoffs
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
Think of Maryland, and you might think of blue crab, Fort McHenry, Cal Ripken Jr., or the Chesapeake Bay. But ice hockey? Not typically.
So how did it come to pass that Peter Hafner, hailing from Gaithersburg, Maryland, would eventually become the team captain of the Harvard Crimson, one of the most distinguished college hockey programs in the country?
"I had a few friends who kind of got me into hockey when I was younger, at about six or seven," recalled Hafner, who was drafted out of high school by the Florida Panthers. "They took me to some Washington Capitals games, and I just kind of got into it."
And Harvard's all the better for it.
Each year brings a flurry of expectations surrounding the Crimson program. And the expectations continue to grow after each thriving season. Harvard has won the ECAC championship twice in the past four years and has appeared in the NCAA tournament the last four.
This season, Hafner has solidified himself as the true essence of a diligent Harvard team, a team many expected to struggle after top-notch talent such as defenseman Noah Welch and goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris graduated last year.
"You're talking about a team that lost a lot of very influential seniors, guys that played big minutes, guys that in a lot of ways were the character of our team, personality-wise," said Harvard coach Ted Donato. "This season, probably more than most, we needed Peter to step up and really drive this group to be the best it could be. He's a quiet, assertive leader, and I think it's been very influential to our team's success this year."
Said Hafner, "I played with Noah pretty much all of my first three years. We had worked together for so long that we had an understanding of where each other was going to be [on the ice]. It's been a bit of an adjustment. I've played with a bunch of different partners this year, but there's a defensive stability there now. So far, it's worked out well for us."
Very well indeed. The Crimson finished only three points out of first place in the ECAC, earned a first-round bye, and rattled off wins this season against national powerhouses such as Boston College, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and most recently, their archrival, Cornell.
In fact, until February 18, no member of the Crimson roster had ever beaten the Big Red at Cornell's Lynah Rink. But Hafner — whom Donato notes "has played some of his best games this year versus the toughest opponents" — was among those determined to leave Ithaca with a win before his career was over.
And in a dramatic third period that saw him leave the ice with blood covering his face and jersey following a hit from behind, Hafner returned later to score the game winner in front of a fervent crowd and a national television audience.
The win clinched Harvard's first Ivy League championship since 2000.
"That game was definitely one of the highlights of the season so far," said Hafner. "Coming into that game, we knew there was so much at stake for us. It was so important at so many different levels. It was for the Ivy League championship, it was for all the NCAA and league standings. Our guys really responded so well. We had never won there, so that really made it even sweeter. It was a very memorable game. Just leaving and coming back, I was fortunate to be in that situation where I was able to get the game-winning goal.
"The blood's off [my jersey]," continued Hafner, laughing. "Got the stitches out, and I got a nice little scar."
"It was indicative of what he has brought to the table this year," added Donato, of Hafner's heroics. "It was an opportunity for this group of seniors to put their own personalized stamp on the program, and I think it's just fitting that Peter would step up and have a great game and make a game winning play in that scenario."
The game-winning goal at Cornell may indeed be Hafner's most defining moment this season to date. But his value on the ice often remains understated, as a sound defensive stronghold on the Crimson blue line, facing the top forwards in the ECAC each and every game.
"I think he has set the overall attitude of our team, especially the defensemen," said Donato. "This year has forced him to be more assertive, both on and off the ice, because of such a young team and a young group that hasn't been in all the situations before. He's really had to step up and set the standard of how we're going to work, not only in games, but in practice, in the weight room, and in student life in general. I think he's done a great job with that."
Now, with the regular season in the books, Harvard begins an intense week of practice before hosting St. Lawrence in the ECAC quarterfinals. Along with the other Crimson seniors, it will be Hafner's final ECAC tournament. And citing the 2004 ECAC championship as one of the highlights of his career, Hafner took a moment to reflect on his time in Cambridge.
"When I was a senior in high school, and I got word that Harvard was really interested in me, that was definitely one of the great moments of my hockey career," said Hafner. "I've just had such a great experience here, hockey-wise, academically and socially. It's been such a great fit for me. It's been an excellent four years."
And as Harvard rolls into the playoffs winning four of their last five, it's likely that Hafner's not done yet.