The greatest job in the world!


That’s right, I believe the greatest job in the world is being a hockey goalie! It’s okay, most people think I’m off my rocker anyway. I love being an old hockey goalie, it is part of my being, and most people are a little surprised when they hear about my goaltending experiences from grade school all the way through college because they don’t think I’m built like a goalie. At least in their mind they have a picture of the Mighty Ducks and Goldberg who was the fat kid who couldn’t skate and was the biggest kid on the team, so he got put in the net.

The greatest job in the world…

Many people have asked me over the years why did I want to be a goalie? As a 12-year-old my answer was simple, the goalie gets to play the entire game while every other player on the team only plays 2- or 3-minute shifts before they must leave the ice. And the goalie is the only player who does not have to leave the game and serve time in the penalty box when they get called for a penalty! (Minor penalties only) How cool I thought, when I did something bad and got caught, I didn’t get a timeout!

I grew up in a suburban neighborhood just north of Chicago that had many boys on the block and depending on the season determined what kind of a game we would play in the neighborhood. When school started up and the weather started to get cold you knew it was hockey season and we started playing street hockey from the moment we got home from school until dinnertime. I would always be the first one to jump into the net and start kicking out whatever the guys would shoot at me.

It was my mom who taught me and my siblings to ice skate in the days when they use to freeze the parks for ice-skating. Although I started initially using figure skates I would always be attracted to those kids that were off to the side at the parks who had sticks in their hands and were playing ice hockey. My two older brothers would always play pickup hockey games on the frozen ponds behind our house in the woods, they were too cool for me their younger brother to join them, so I was never invited. That is until they needed a goalie! No one else in our neighborhood wanted to be a goalie and you could not have a good hockey match up unless you had a goalie to shoot at so they started to invite me to play with the big boys all the time.

My dream of being a real goalie started to become a reality when my dad became the attorney for the Niles Park district. He came home one day and me and my brothers were signed up to play organized ice hockey for the Niles Park district.

The greatest job in the world…

Another reason I love being a goalie is how the goalie equipment is so unique and completely different than most of my friends had ever seen before. Unfortunately, it is also very expensive! So much so that I had to use the Niles Park District’s equipment (the gray leg pads and the gloves in the picture)

I never had my own equipment until high school, and then I would always buy used equipment from other goalies I knew who just got a new set of leg pads or new gloves.

My dad was an avid Blackhawks hockey fan and back then those tickets were hard to come by and were not cheap. Every once in a while, my dad would score a couple of Blackhawk tickets that would be standing room only in the upper deck of the old Chicago Stadium.

I remember it like it was yesterday when it was my turn and I got to come to a game, I remember walking up the stairs and barely being able to see through the smoke that would rise to the top of the building. There would always be at least one or two fights in the stands right around us as we watched the Blackhawks go toe to toe with the Boston Bruins or whoever they faced that evening. But the thing I remembered most was the roar of the “Mad House on Madison”

I remember one day hearing a news story about this new rookie goaltending sensation who signed a big contract with the Blackhawks, his name was Tony Esposito. He took the NHL by storm his rookie year and set a record by recording 15 shutouts in a single season. This record still stands today and will never be broken especially given the speed and talent of professional hockey players in the modern era. Because of this record he earned the nickname Tony “O” which always made me smile.


1980: Goalie Tony Esposito #35 of the Chicago Blackhawks poses for a portrait circa 1980. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

During Tony O’s rookie season, I fell in love with everything that he embodied as the ideal role model that would help guide me on my own hockey journey as a goalie.

The greatest job in the world…

There is no better feeling than being a goalie in a close game with time running out and the opposing team gets a break away. That is, the opposing player breaks away from our defenseman and is skating in all alone with the puck on his stick and no one between him and the goal except me the goalie and then making a big save!

Matt Berrafato stopping a breakaway in the 1976 state championship game.

The media both local and nationally loved the Tony O story of a rookie with 15 shutouts while also winning the Calder Cup Trophy (rookie of the year) and the Vezina Trophy (most valuable goalie in the NHL). I devoured every story I could find about Tony O and came across the cover story from Sports Illustrated highlighting the Esposito brothers Phil and Tony.

It surprised me that the writer of the story whenever they talked about Tony O the younger brother the focus was on his mental philosophy about goaltending. There were three parts of his goalie philosophy.

1 – Mentally prepare for every game. (Get psyched up mentally and visualize yourself stopping every shot.)

2 – When they score a goal against you forget about it! There is nothing you can do to remove the goal from the scoreboard. Focus instead on stopping the next shot!

3 – Your only job as a goalie is to stop the puck, don’t blame your teammates no matter what the circumstance after a goal is scored against you.

Not only did I model and copy his style of goaltending, the butterfly,

Tony “O” Esposito created the butterfly style of goaltending which is now used unanimously by all goalies.

Matt Berrafato with the Bantam Niles travel All-Stars finishing second in the Illinois State Hockey Tournament 1972-1973.

Matt Berrafato with the Notre Dame Dons varsity hockey team in Niles IL, the 1976 AAA Illinois High School State Champions.

but I also adopted the three aspects of his mental goaltending philosophy which was responsible for me being able to compete at the high school and college NCAA Division I levels.

The greatest job in the world…

I learned 3 important life lessons from being a goalie.

1 – Don’t worry about failing, get up and focus on the next shot.

2 – When you make a mistake, take responsibility, and get better so it doesn’t happen again.

3 – Develop the mental toughness not to worry about what other people think.

One reason being a goalie isn’t easy is that when they score a goal against you especially after making a mistake, you can’t hide. Any other position in hockey when you screw up you can skate off the ice and go sit on the bench. But the goalie can’t leave the ice and hide, the spotlight along with every eye in the arena is left looking at you. When I played college hockey for the Wisconsin Badgers I learned a new meaning for the word sieve. I felt sorry for the opposing goalie after the Badgers scored a goal. As a goalie up in Madison they called you a sieve because every shot went through you. Not only did they call you a sieve, they reminded you that it’s all your fault!

The greatest job in the world…

As a goalie you always feel needed. Although it is true that without a good offense that scores goals you can’t win many games. There is a saying in hockey that if you don’t have a goalie that can stand on his head regularly, you don’t win championships. Can you imagine a goalie dressed in full gear being able to stand on his head on the ice?

Well, a goalie who stops impossible shots especially multiple times in a row is described as a goalie who can stand on his head. Tony O would regularly stand on his head 2 and 3 times in each game and although I was saddened by the fact that in his 16-year NHL career with the Blackhawks he never did experience winning the Stanley Cup. I was happy to see Rocky Wirtz bring Tony O back as an ambassador to experience the last three Chicago Stanley Cup championships.

When I heard the news last week that my goaltending mentor and hero passed away after a brief battle with cancer, I felt a big hole in my heart. Although I never met him in person, he had a significant impact on my life. The lessons he taught me not only allowed me to be the best goalie I could be but also the best version of myself as a successful person in the other arenas of my life.

Tony “O” Esposito, one of the greatest goalies to ever play the game, may he rest in peace.

My passion for hockey and especially for being a goalie have played a significant role in my life purpose finding me!

See my blog post “The Mystery of Inspiration”

Matthew Berrafato

The Elephant Hunter