He doesn’t remember the opponent, or how deep into the season it was. Nine more years of hockey memories have since muddied the moment that set a long, successful career into motion.
But what stands out to him now is the age. Sixteen.
“I don’t think you really realize when you’re that young,” Rafuse recalls. “It’s just the joy of playing. And with that group of guys, there wasn’t a whole lot of pressure. They were so good. Whoever we were playing, they just got the job done.”
The Kentville native took over the starting role midseason when 20-year-old Darcy Stewart went down injured. Rafuse started the next 10 straight games and won nine. By season’s end, he had his first Young-Knickle award for best goaltending tandem and a Kent Cup championship ring.
Five years and 63 wins later, Rafuse wrapped up his junior career as the winningest goaltender in Truro Bearcats history.
This weekend, Rafuse’s record could fall to 20-year-old Bearcats netminder Jacob Fancy. The Lower Sackville native tied the record with a 2-1 win over the Yarmouth Mariners last Saturday. The Bearcats have two games this weekend, taking on South Shore tonight and hosting Dieppe on Saturday.
Rafuse doesn’t mind relinquishing the record – it means his old team is doing well. Plus, he can’t think of a better person to hand it over to.
“It’s always a good thing when a record like that gets broken, especially having it be Jacob Fancy. I’ve trained with him since I was little, and still skate with him in the summer. He’s put his time in there and played well over the years. He’s patient, and he listens to the staff. Kids really look up to him, I know that. You see it when we train together on the ice in the summer.”
During four seasons in Truro, Rafuse was part of Young-Knickle-winning tandems four times. “It kinda became known as Truro’s trophy,” he says with pride in his voice.
As his time wound down, however, his options were scarce. After a few offers fell through, Rafuse ended up spending a year away from hockey.
“It was tough,” he said. “I think it was more tough mentally, than anything. It’s a hard transition after junior hockey to find your way.”
Through it all, there were conversations with Nipissing University in North Bay, Ont. An upstart hockey program, they were looking for players with junior experience to fill out the roster. Two weeks into the school year, approaching his second season out of hockey, Rafuse received an offer.
“I don’t think I stopped a single shot in my first practice,” he laughed. “But I always felt like I wasn’t done playing yet. I had to prove it to myself. I had to be cut from a team to finally be done with hockey at that point.”
Now in his fourth season with Nipissing, Rafuse has started 53 games and been to the playoffs in all four years. He credits his success to the Bearcats, who worked hard to promote him to the next level.
“It felt like my second home,” he said. “They’ve been great to me and gave me a chance to play since I was young.”