While the year 2020 wasn’t shy of challenging for everyone, neither is relocating twice for a youngster who hasn’t turned 19-years-old, yet.
Railers Jr. Hockey Club goaltender Stefan Kulhanek shared his overseas adventures and Road to the EHL.
Strapping on the Pads
Kulhanek, 18, was born and raised in Austria and it seemed that since he can remember – life was always “strictly hockey.”
One of the Eastern Hockey League’s (EHL) rising stars began his ice hockey career as a forward, but Kulhanek later transitioned to his role between the pipes. As an eight-year-old, he volunteered and strapped on the pads when Kulhanek’s travel team was missing a netminder for a practice.
The rest was history.
“My father showed up to the rink and was confused that he didn’t see me skating,” said Kulhanek. His father then proceeded to ask other parents where his son was. The company that night at the rink responded with “oh, he’s in the net.”
His first ‘in the net’ experience blossomed into a full-time passion after Kulhanek decided to “just try” the position. The masked man then excelled into a top goaltender for his respective country and eventually pursued an opportunity in the Czech Republic when he was 12-years-old. Kulhanek’s hope was that the brave move to the Czech Republic would help the goaltender improve and provide another future opportunity.
“I’m always trying and to just get better and better,” said Kulhanek. “I like being the one who can help your teammates and fix the mistake.”
Kulhanek’s usual routine of driving two hours from Austria to the Czech Republic seemed to work out for the better. The youngster eventually advanced to the highest level for competitive youth hockey in the Czech, and his dedication paid dividends after Kulhanek earned a chance at turning away shots in the United States.
New England Bound
Kulhanek’s travels eventually took the 6-foot netminder to the states, where he landed at North Yarmouth Academy, a prep school program located in Maine. The goaltender then appeared in 26 contests from 2018 until the end of the 2020 season, while posting a commendable .925 save % in 2019-20.
As this hockey enthusiast likes to say -” you never know who’s watching.”
Well, Jr. Railers head coach Sean Bertoni was clearly watching, both at NYA and this past summer at the Hockey Night In Boston Showcase. The Jr. Railers’ boss bench recruited Kulhanek and since the Austrian native took over the team’s crease – the Jr. Railers are a legitimate EHL contender.
While Kulhanek has thrived in the EHL, he began the campaign at the Eastern Hockey League Premier (EHLP) level. The youngster appeared in four games and posted a 3-1-0 record in addition to a .950 save %. With that being said, Kulhanek never doubted his ability to earn the call up to the EHL.
“I knew I could fight my way through and finally they gave me the chance and I showed what I can do,” said Kulhanek. “I am grateful that I can actually play right now.”
It’s probably fair to say that the Jr. Railers are also grateful and for their goaltender and his stellar play. At the time of writing, Kulhanek is 14-8-0 on the year and owns a 2.98 goals-against-average in addition to a .917 save%. Additionally, No. 35’s 14 wins rank fourth in the EHL.
Since donning a Jr. Railers sweater, Kulhanek also expressed his perspective on the relocation overseas.
“You hear about the U.S. having good school systems and good hockey, and that they work well together, so I came here,” said Kulhanek. So, it seems that the masked man is intrigued about excelling to the NCAA level and through the EHL pipeline. Also, for the record, Kulhanek was proud to share he is in fact a U.S. citizen.
While the goaltender enjoys face-timing with his family often, skiing and is “into cars,” Kulhanek made one aspect clear.
“Hockey has basically been life. That’s why I moved here overseas by myself without my parents.”
Since the Railers called up Kulhanek the team has climbed in the standings and is bidding for third place in the Central Division. It’s likely that the Junior hockey community will hear the name “Kulhanek” more often.
(Kyle McKenna covers the EHL for HNIB and can be followed on Twitter @KMcKenna_EHL)