When I see Rusty Hafner off the ice, he always has a smile on his face. He’s quick with a “Hello” or “How are ya?” Definitely one of the more charismatic players on the Cottonmouths team. On the ice, he’s focused, fierce and feisty.
He carries a swagger like his favorite MMA fighter Conor MacGregor, whose athleticism he tries to emulate in his life. Although Rusty’s family is of a German background and not an Irish one, he can pull from how Conor holds himself. I think Rusty does this very well.
The boys call him “Hafcheds.”
If you think that “Hafcheds” has a good game on the ice, you should see him battle it out with teammate, Evan Neugold in musical chairs. I think, no…I know, that was the single most fantastically played game of musical chairs I’ve ever witnessed. And even though Evan won, (holding that folding chair high above his head like a victory chalice), Rusty still had a huge smile on his face.
A lot has happened to the Columbus Cottonmouth team since Rusty and I spoke. He’s sitting on the IR from the bus accident. But according to Coach Jerome Bechard, he still comes to the rink, he’s getting better. You can also see him up in the stands with a few of the other players that are on the IR, supporting his teammates on the ice.
But, the will and determination of this team — this family of men — mean you will more than likely see Rusty on the ice again, coming back bigger and better than ever. In the meantime, The Sin Bin family and all of the fans from around the SPHL wish you nothing but the best and speediest of recoveries!
Enjoy my chat with Rusty “Hafcheds” Hafner…
The Sin Bin: So, this is your second year here in Columbus, show up four games in. Why so late?
Rusty Hafner: From last year, I had a little shoulder injury and waited until almost the end of summer to find out that I needed to have surgery. So, I had surgery about ten weeks ago and just came back November 19th
TSB: So, you are good to go?
RH: It’s still a little bit sore here and there, but I guess once you take a few hits on it, you get used to it.
TSB: How is it playing hockey with your cousin (Lukas)?
RH: It’s unbelievable. We grew up playing together and always said, once we made it college or professional that we’d want to be on a team together. And…here we are in Columbus.
TSB: Jerome Bechard was really excited to have your cousin here in Columbus.
RH: Yeah, he’s been one of the better goalies that I’ve played with in College. He was one of the top goalies in division one, so I kinda put in a good word for him to Boom Boom and he brought him aboard.
TSB: As a Conor MacGregor fan, do you draw from him as an athlete when you play hockey?
RH: Oh absolutely, as an athlete…just the confidence. It helps you to be a better athlete overall. It helps you take your game to the next level, feeling in yourself that you are actually better than you are.
TSB: Why hockey, why not baseball or basketball?
RH: Well, actually…growing up I played different sports. I played hockey, baseball, basketball, ran cross country, and I played it all. But to be completely honest, baseball was my best sport. But, my freshman year, I got suspended from baseball after skipping it for hockey…so, I just ended up quitting. I could have seen myself going pretty far in baseball to be completely honest with you. I started out when I was five, my kindergarten librarian, and her son played hockey. She was friends with my parents and they gave me his hand-me-down equipment, took me down to the rink, and I started playing since then.
TSB: Why play defense, why not offense or goalie?
RH: I don’t know. I guess it’s just what my parents put me in when I was younger and I just went with it. I enjoy being a physical player.
TSB: You played with Columbus last year. What do you think of this year’s team versus last years?
RH: I definitely think this year’s team has more potential. Even though it hasn’t shown yet. I think we have more of a scoring threat on this team more offensive, even though haven’t shown it yet. Once we get on through the year, and toward the end of the year, I really think we’ll start to show that. I think that was the biggest thing last year…we set records for the lowest scoring team in the history.
TSB: What style of play do you have as a defenseman?
RH: I’d say I like to bring more of a physical presence. But at the same time, people have considered me as a defensive defenseman. But as I’ve gotten older in playing hockey, I feel that I have brought more of an offensive guy as well. A good two-way player. I like to shut down the teams’ number one line, but at the same time, I like to jump up in the play and create some stuff offensively.
TSB: If you could compare yourself to any NHL player, who would it be?
RH: Growing up, my two favorite defensemen were Nicklas Lidstrom (Red Wings) because my favorite team was the Red Wings. Then, Scott Stevens (New Jersey Devils). I like Scott Stevens a little more because of the way he was so physical. He was just a really tough guy. So, growing up, I’d say I always wanted to be like Scott Stevens.
TSB: What makes Rusty Hafner a great defenseman?
RH: We just talked about it…I like to bring a physical presence. Also jumping up and being that physical presence being able to create offensive chances on the other end of the play as well. People have that one skill where they can play offense and have no interest playing on the defensive end. Some people, on the other hand, have that defense and don’t have a knack for the offensive end. So, I think I do a pretty good job of complementing both ends of the ice.
TSB: You’ve already got what…two scraps under your belt?
RH: One. My first night that I was back. Played a period and I was all…so. (He shrugs with a sheepish smile).
TSB: Let’s go through that. What makes you drop the gloves?
RH: Well, my first fight this year was…their team was coming up the sideboard, a kid caught a pass, I just rung his bell pretty good. His team came after me, they wanted to fight, so I just dropped the gloves with the first guy standing in front of me. It ended well for me, so I’m happy about that.
TSB: What is a typical game day for you, from practice to game time?
RH: We wake up, gotta be at the rink by nine, practice at ten. So, you’re there an hour before. I wake up and have a good protein smoothie for breakfast. Afterward, come home…I have my pre-game meal a little earlier than most guys. I eat between noon and one o’clock, so I can take a nice long nap from two to four or four-thirty. I get as much sleep as I possibly can. Before I leave for the rink, I make another protein smoothie, get a little extra carbs in me. Then get to the rink, have a coffee, stretch, hang out with the guys in the locker room. I like to get ready really late, almost ten minutes maybe less than that before we go on the ice. I hate sitting around.
Photo Courtesy BLD GraphicsTSB: Any pre-game ritual that you do or have?
RH: I have never really had anything like that. I’m not superstitious in any way. I just go with the flow. A lot of guys aren’t like that. Some guys need a routine. I’m not like that at all. I guess my thing is that I get ready late. I hate sitting in my equipment, I just feel stiff.
TSB: How do you spend your time off? What do you like to do?
RH: With my shoulder this year, I haven’t been able to golf as much. But last year, I was golfing four or five times a week. Come home from practice, got to the gym for an hour, and golf. I haven’t been able to do too much of that this year, but now that I’m feeling better, I’ll pick that back up again.
TSB: What would you be doing if you weren’t playing hockey?
RH: …..A lot of guys don’t even like to think about that because hockey has been your life for so long. But, I think I’d have some nine to five job. I think the number one thing I want to be is a coach. I wanted to be a coach initially in college, but the classes were in the same time block as our practices so I could never take that kind of classes. So I was forced to go into exercise science, but in an ideal world, I’d be a coach.
TSB: What is your best chirp during a game? Are you a talker on the ice?
RH: I talk to my team a lot. I don’t chirp a lot, so probably…you’re bad at hockey. I don’t talk to the other team that much unless I get really really angry. And I don’t think I could say that on here.
TSB: What do you want everyone to know about Rusty Hafner?
RH: I’d say that I’m just a pretty easy going guy. Very easy to get along with. You don’t see it so much when I’m on the rink, I’m pretty physical. Really nice guy.
TSB: A lot of you guys are Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
RH: You gotta have a switch that you turn on and off. You go to the rink, you gotta be able to turn on the competitiveness. But then, when you get away, you have to be able to get along with just about anybody.
TSB: Early bird or night owl. RH: Night owl.
TSB: Are you a neat person or messy? RH: Neat.
TSB: Favorite color? RH: Green.
TSB: Are you a lover or a fighter? RH: Lover.
TSB: Theatre or Netflix? RH: Netflix.
TSB: Hot or cold weather? RH: Hot.
TSB: Favorite sport other than hockey? RH: Baseball.
TSB: Go to snack? RH: Graham crackers and peanut butter.
TSB: Facebook or Instagram? RH: Instagram.
TSB: Twitter or Snapchat? RH: Snapchat.
TSB: Using only one word, how would your teammates describe you? RH: Yoked…big strong guy.
TSB: If you were an MMA fighter, what would your walkout song be? RH: Nelly, Batter Up.
TSB: Name one thing on your bucket list.
RH: Going to the corporate office to pick up my MEGA MILLIONS lottery winnings.
TSB: If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Why?
RH: I’d say…to be able to turn invisible. (I accused of being a creeper who liked to spy on people…all joking of course). To avoid some people that I don’t get along with.
TSB: What is your go-to pizza topping? RH: Sausage
TSB: What would your spirit animal be? RH: Cheetah. Just how fast they are.
TSB: What is your nickname? RH: Hafcheds
TSB: If you teammate lost a bet and had to sing karaoke, what song would you have them sing?
RH: Hit Me Baby One More Time by Brittney Spears
TSB: What is your favorite hockey team/player?
RH: Red Wings/Pavel Datsyuk
TSB: If you could meet anyone famous, who would it be?
RH: Conor MacGregor
Our thanks to Rusty Hafner for chatting with us.
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