The North American Hockey League (NAHL) has announced its monthly player awards for the month of February. The Combat Hockey NAHL Forward of the Month is Robbie Payne from the Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings. The Combat Hockey NAHL Defenseman of the Month is Terry Leabo from the Springfield Jr. Blues. The Brian’s Custom Sports NAHL Goaltender of the Month is Paul Berrafato from the Amarillo Bulls. Only players who are nominated by their respective teams are considered for the NAHL monthly awards.
Combat Hockey NAHL Forward of the Month: Robbie Payne, Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings
The Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings used the month of February to climb right back into the North Division title hunt and no one was more productive in the line-up than forward Robbie Payne. The 19-year-old from Gaylord, Michigan, helped the Jr. K-Wings to a 6-0-1 record during the month. The Northern Michigan University recruit was able to rack up 14 points (4 goals, 10 assists) in just six games played during the month of February. Payne (6’0/189) was also a +8 during the month. Payne had a stretch of five games in February in which he recorded multi-point games in all of them, including a stretch of three games in which he had 10 points. Payne currently has 60 points, which ranks him tied for 3rd in NAHL scoring.
“Robbie stepped up his game, both offensively and defensively. He really played well at both ends of the arena and also made a significant impact on special teams,” said Kalamazoo head coach Marc Fakler. “Having already secured a NCAA Division I commitment, we are working with Robbie on becoming a well-rounded player, so that when he gets to the NCAA he will be able to make an impact on the roster as a freshman. As good a scorer as Robbie is, he has to be able to play at both ends of the ice and really pay attention to the defensive part of the game in college, so we have worked hard on that part of his game and he really responded in February by being a complete player. The result is our team and Robbie having success and we hope it continues.”
Payne feels the exact same way as his coach. “I think my production in the month was a direct result of paying attention to the defensive part of the game. When you are able to take care of things in your own end, the transition to offense becomes that much easier and I think it played a big part in the team’s success,” said Payne. “I think it also helps that we have two really good goalies and guys who put a priority on defense. I think our line was clicking at the right time and when everyone is on the same page, it makes it easier on everyone.” Having already secured a college commitment, Payne said his goal is to become a more well-rounded hockey player. “I want to make few mistakes, especially in my own end. If I stay aggressive in the offensive end and things don’t work out on a play, then I have to be ready to get back and play defense. I think if we can keep up this level of play, especially defensively, then getting one of the two top spots in the North and byes in the 1st round is first in our minds. From that point on it is strictly a focus on getting to the Robertson Cup and having success.”
Runner-Up: Justin Parizek, Aberdeen Wings
Honorable Mention (alphabetical): Ryan Atkinson, Springfield Jr. Blues – Zach Diamantoni, Janesville Jets – Tyler Dunagan, Jamestown Ironmen – Stanislav Dzakhov, Bismarck Bobcats – Andy Faust, Coulee Region Chill – Sean Murphy, Soo Eagles – Jake O’Borsky, Minot Minotauros – TJ Sarcona, Amarillo Bulls - Kyle Sharkey, Topeka RoadRunners – CJ Smith, Austin Bruins – Tyler Spezia, Port Huron Fighting Falcons – Joe Sullivan, Wenatchee Wild – Jordan Watt, Johnstown Tomahawks – Colton Wolter, Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
Previous Winners: September 2012, Jono Davis, Wenatchee Wild – October 2012, Brandon Hawkins, Texas Tornado – November 2012, Kyle Sharkey, Topeka RoadRunners – December 2012, Brandon Wahlin, Austin Bruins – January 2013, Lawrence Cornellier, Odessa Jackalopes.
Combat Hockey NAHL Defenseman of the Month: Terry Leabo, Springfield Jr. Blues
It has been quite the first year NAHL journey for Springfield Jr. Blues defenseman Terry Leabo. The 19-year-old native of Fargo, North Dakota, played the first four games this season with the Alexandria Blizzard in the NA3HL. He then went onto play one game for Minot in the NAHL, before being traded to Springfield in early October. After trying to find his role with the Jr. Blues, it seemed that something clicked after the Christmas break. Leabo (5’11/170) started to click with his new team and produce points from the blueline. It all came to a head in the month of February, where Leabo recorded eight points (all assists) in seven games played and was one of the few Jr. Blues players to be on the positive side in the plus/minus category with a +4. After going scoreless in the first three games of the month, Leabo then stepped his game up in the next four as he had all his points in that time frame. It included back-to-back three point efforts in two games against the Soo Eagles. For the season, Leabo leads all Jr. Blues defenseman with 25 points (3 goals, 22 assists).
Springfield head coach Tony Zasowski said that Leabo has made a lot of progress this season, particularly in the second half of the season. “I think the opportunity was all that Terry needed. He is a very capable and talented defenseman, but I think just working with him to find is role and his niche was something that took a little bit of time. Once he started to get some confidence and assert himself, he became a much more effective player,” said Zasowski. “He is a solid two-way defenseman. I think most importantly through is that he pays the price and works hard. He blocks shots and does the little things and dirty work that make a team successful. He also plays with an edge and that really makes him a complete defenseman.”
For Leabo, the monthly award is something that he attributes to the improvement of himself and his team. “We have a great group of guys here and I really like playing in Springfield. Since the New Year, I have really felt like I needed to do something more and step up and I think February was a result of that,” said Leabo. “We are fighting for our playoff lives every game, so playing well is important and it gets magnified. Anything can happen in the playoffs, but we have to keep winning games and playing well to get there.” Leabo, who came to the NAHL after playing Minnesota High School hockey last season, said that the transition to the NAHL has been a learning curve. “I think the two things that really stand out are the size and skill of the players,” said Leabo. “I am just trying to learn and grow. I want to get to 30 points by the end of the regular season and keep improving my plus/minus rating. Hopefully that will help the team continue to have success and make a playoff run.”
Runner-Up: Blake Butzow, Wenatchee Wild
Honorable Mention (alphabetical): Brett Beauvais, Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings – Ben Campbell, Fairbanks Ice Dogs – Pat Gazzillo, Soo Eagles – Jerry Laakso, Minot Minotauros – Ryan Nick, Port Huron Fighting Falcons – Ruslan Pedan, Janesville Jets - Patrick Pollock, Topeka RoadRunners – Nate Repensky, Bismarck Bobcats – TJ Sherman, Amarillo Bulls – Derek Smith, Coulee Region Chill – Dylan Zink, Jamestown Ironmen.
Previous Winners: September 2012, Mark Evan Auk, Port Huron Fighting Falcons – October 2012, Cody Dixon, Austin Bruins – November 2012, Casey Nelson, Johnstown Tomahawks – December 2012, John Rey, Amarillo Bulls – January 2013, Brett Beauvais, Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings.
Brian’s Custom Sports NAHL Goaltender of the Month: Paul Berrafato, Amarillo Bulls
Thanks to an 8-2 month of February, the Amarillo Bulls are right back atop the NAHL standings. With a 40-win season and South Division title almost a forgone conclusion, there are several reasons for the success. Look no further than in goal with netminder Paul Berrafato. The 19-year-old native of Buffalo, New York, was outstanding in the month of February and has the Bulls right back on track to more regular season accolades. Berrafato (6’0/180) was 7-1 in the month of February with a 1.38 goals against average and a 94.3% save percentage. Berrafato’s appearances in February were all against good and respected opponents. He beat Texas four times and had a 21-save shutout against Corpus Christi. He never gave up more than two goals in a game, which included his lone loss, which was a 2-1 defeat to the IceRays on February 23rd. To date, Berrafato ranks 1st in the NAHL in goals against average with a 1.72 and is tied for 2nd in wins with 28.
Bulls head coach Dennis Williams said the success of the team this year starts in goal with Berrafato. “I think what I am most proud of this season is our team’s goals against average and Paul has played a big part in that. We have mental lapses like any other team, but the majority of the time he does a great job of making the big saves when something like that happens,” said Williams. “His body language and his demeanor is great. You would never know if you are up a goal or down a goal. He is steady and comes to work every day ready to compete. I never have to worry about his mental status.” Williams also said that Berrafato helps his cause by simplifying things in goal from a technical aspect. “He is very square to the puck and doesn’t put more work on himself than he already has. He does a good job at controlling rebounds, so he isn’t facing 3-4 shots at a time. I think all of that makes a good combination to make him successful in this league. I think it is just a matter of time for him to find the right situation to take the next step in his hockey career at the collegiate level.”
Berrafato said his success can be attributed to the team around him. “I think everyone came together and realized that February was a month that we had some head-to-head match-ups that could make or break our season and fortunately everyone stepped up around me to make it happen. There is a great group of players in front of me that do a great job of limiting the chances of our opponents. Our forwards backcheck hard and play great two-way hockey and our defenseman do a great job of clearing guys out in front in order for me to see and stop the puck,” said Berrafato. “It makes my job easier because you know when the chances come, you have to be there to make the save. It is very black and white… just stop the puck so we can stay in the game and get chances the other way,” said Berrafato. As for the remainder of the season, Berrafato said there is one goal left. “We want to win the Robertson Cup. I think if I can continue to stop the puck and play well, we have a good opportunity to do so and then hopefully that will lead to an college opportunity.”
Runner-Up: Marcus Due-Boje, Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings
Honorable Mention (alphabetical): Joe Ballmer, Jamestown Ironmen – Brock Kautz, Janesville Jets – Tyler Marble, Soo Eagles – Max Milosek, Port Huron Fighting Falcons – Aaron Nelson, Bismarck Bobcats – Robert Nichols, Wenatchee Wild – Tyler Parks, Minot Minotauros – Steve Perry, Fairbanks Ice Dogs – Tim Shaughnessy, Coulee Region Chill – Spencer Viele, Topeka RoadRunners – Marcus Zelzer, Kenai River Brown Bears.
Previous Winners: September 2012, Drew Weigman, Brookings Blizzard – October 2012, Tyler Marble, Soo Eagles – November 2012, Robert Nichols, Wenatchee Wild – December 2012, Nick Lehr, Austin Bruins – January 2013, Hunter Leisner, Texas Tornado.
About Combat Hockey
The Official Equipment Supplier of the NAHL, Combat Sports has been extremely successful the past 10 years as the fastest-growing North American baseball/softball bat, hockey stick and lacrosse shaft manufacturing company. Visit Combat online here.
About Brian's Custom Sports
The Official Goaltending Equipment Supplier of the NAHL, Brian's has been a leading Canadian supplier of custom built goal equipment since 1984. The factory is located in Kingsville, Ontario near the Southern tip of Canada with ready access to supplying the North American market. As one of the original and remaining custom goal equipment manufacturers Brian's remains committed to continuing to lead the industry with exceptional design and quality. Visit Brian’s online here.