Paul Berrafato had to wait patiently for his chance.
Berrafato made sure to get the most out of the opportunity to serve as the No. 1 goalie for the Amarillo Bulls after a long stretch of inactivity last season.
The 19-year-old from Buffalo, N.Y., led the North American Hockey League in two major statistical categories and has continued that success into the playoffs. The Bulls won the South Division playoff title to become the first team to qualify for a spot in the Robertson Cup Finals.
Berrafato reported to Amarillo for the end of the 2011-12 season, even though he knew he would only be able to practice with the Bulls before playing this season.
“I knew I was going to a good place where I could develop,” said Berrafato, who has committed to play college hockey at Holy Cross beginning with the 2014-15 season. “I was able to work on my game.”
Berrafato chose that route rather than report to New Mexico, which is no longer in the NAHL, after being traded to the last-place team during the 2011-12 season. Berrafato worked out his release from the team at the trading deadline.
The 2011-12 season started with Berrafato on another last-place team, going 5-5 and posting the best statistics of four goalies used by the United States Hockey League’s Muskegon Lumberjacks before they made the interleague trade. Berrafato, who had also spent the previous season with Muskegon, last played January 7, 2012.
The layoff from game action did not appear to hurt.
Berrafato helped Amarillo go 46-7-7 for the NAHL’s best record. He led the league in wins while going 33-3-5-2 and also leading with a 1.66 goals-against average. He was fifth in the NAHL with a .928 save percentage.
The Bulls knocked the defending champion Texas Tornado out of the Robertson Cup playoffs in a three-game division final sweep with Berrafato stopping 75 of 80 shots. He held Texas to one goal in each of the first two games.
“We play a good defensive game, but at the same time, we have a lot of guys that score,” said Berrafato, who credited Amarillo’s defensive success to the forwards’ willingness to backcheck and the team’s ability to adjust coverage within its own zone.
Coach Dennis Williams said Berrafato’s play has, in turn, boosted the team’s offense.
“He’s very confident right now,” said Williams, “and knowing we have a goalie back there like Paulie, we can take more risks.
“We know he’ll be there to make that big save for us.”
Berrafato is good at minimizing the situations where he has to make more than one good save at a time.
“He’s a mature goalie,” Williams said. “He does a great job with his rebound control. He smothers shots.”
After waiting his turn, Berrafato is showing he can be a leader on a winning team.
“What he’s really good at — I think it’s his demeanor for the game — he’s not a guy who gets too rattled,” said Williams, who had recruited Berrafato while coaching at Bowling Green State University. “He doesn’t get too high or too low. He’s really true to the moment.
“He doesn’t react to a bad goal or even a bad game.”
With Berrafato in goal, the Bulls have not had to deal with many bad games.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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