American novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote “You Can’t Go Home Again,” but that obviously doesn’t apply to Brett Bernardo.
Bernardo, who transferred out of the Shenendehowa school district to attend LaSalle Institute in Troy as a seventh-grader, is back at Shenendehowa for his senior season, and is one of the main reasons the Plainsmen are contending for the Capital District High School Hockey League’s Delvecchio Cup, awarded to the team with the best overall record.
Bernardo, a 5-foot-10, 155-pound senior, has been in goal for all but one of Shenendehowa’s wins this season as the Plainsmen have rolled out to an 11-3-1 record.
“Brett gives us opportunities to win games that we probably wouldn’t win,” said Shenendehowa coach Juan de la Rocha.
“LaSalle is a great school, and I really enjoyed my three years there,” said Bernardo after practice Tuesday at Clifton Park Arena. “But they were going to have a big rebuilding year this year, and I saw an opportunity to come back to Shen and play on a real good team, so I took advantage of that opportunity.”
Bernardo compiled an 8-7 record with a 3.07 goals-against average and an .893 save percentage for the Cadets last year, but his numbers are off the chart this year. His goals-against average is hovering right around 2.00, and his save percentage has jumped to .915.
He’s been forced to be good, because, as a rule, the Plainsmen don’t score a lot of goals. Four of their wins have been by one goal, and two of the losses have also been by a single tally.
He’s only given up more than three goals on one occasion, a 4-1 loss to St. Joseph’s in the second round of the Don Kauth Memorial Tournament in Saratoga Springs on Dec. 11.
Bernardo has solid mechanics in goal, but his biggest asset is his glove hand. At times, it’s almost cartoonish, like watching a frog on a lily pad snap out his tongue to catch a fly.
Zap! Tongue comes out, fly disappears.
Zap! Glove goes out, puck disappears.
“I played baseball until I was a freshman, and I was a catcher, so I think that helps,” said Bernardo, who began his hockey career playing for Clifton Park Youth Hockey before moving on to the Albany Storm.
“He’s made a lot of those this year,” said de la Rocha, referring to Bernardo’s glove saves. “He made about 11 of those against Queensbury. They got a goal 20 seconds in on a deflection, and they were all over us, but Brett kept us in the game, and then we popped in four to win it. He did the same thing against Ithaca [a 2-1 overtime win], and he did the same thing against McQuaid [a 3-2 overtime victory]. He puts us in a position to win.”
Bernardo also has the right demeanor to play in goal.
“I get upset when we lose, but during a game, if I give up a goal, I know I have to put it in the back of my mind and focus on the next shot,” he said.
“When I’m getting a lot of shots, I do everything I can to stop the puck. But when I don’t see a lot of shots, I watch what’s going on in front of me, and make sure everyone is doing their job.”
While Bernardo is one of the top goalies in the area, he might be a better lacrosse player than he is a hockey player. He was a Big 10 all-star last year when he scored 28 goals and 15 assists for the Cadets, and he’s going to be a welcome addition to what was already going to be a strong Plainsmen lacrosse team.
“That was one of the other reasons I wanted to come back,” he said. “I knew it would be a good opportunity for me to play lacrosse here.”
In fact, if he plays a sport in college, it will probably be lacrosse.
“But I can always play club hockey,” he said.
But lacrosse will have to wait. Shenendehowa returns to action Friday, hosting Shaker/Colonie at 7:30 p.m., and still has a number of big games left, including a rematch with Saratoga Springs on Tuesday. Bernardo gave up three goals in a 3-2 loss to the Blue Streaks on
Dec. 23. That is still Shenendehowa’s only loss in the CDHSHL, where the Plainsmen are 7-1-0.
“I try not to think about those things,” said Bernardo of the rematch with the Streaks. “I don’t think of games as a big game or a little game. I just have to take the games one at a time.”
Shenendehowa hasn’t won a league or sectional championship in two years, but with Bernardo in the nets, that could change this season.
“The first thing you need to win the title is a hot goaltender,” said de la Rocha.