With an inexperienced team in front of him, all-star goaltender Tyler Perhac struggled along with the rest of his Gateway High School teammates in the first half of the season.
But as the season has progressed and his teammates have gained experience, Perhac has raised his game to new heights.
A junior goaltender, he won six of nine starts, allowing just one goal in five of the victories before a 7-2 loss last Friday to league power Bishop Canevin. Gateway (7-11) has gone from the bottom of the league to a playoff team.
"I'm just glad to see it," said Gene Perhac, Tyler's father and Gateway's head coach. "He's always been one of the top goaltenders in the league when he's zoned in.
"He can take over a game and make it very difficult for the other team."
Last season, Tyler was a key part of Gateway's section title team. He finished second in Class AA in saves and earned an all-star selection.
But Perhac's numbers suffered at the beginning of this season playing behind a young squad. About two-thirds of Gateway's roster comprises freshmen and sophomores.
To exacerbate the problem, because Gateway doesn't have a junior varsity squad, most of the underclassmen are coming from freshman hockey, where checking isn't allowed. So the new Gators aren't used to the physicality of this level.
As the team tried to adjust, it won just one of its first eight games, and Perhac allowed at least five goals in six games. His save percentage during the span was just .841.
But as the youngsters have gotten comfortable, Perhac's game has improved dramatically. His save percentage over his past nine games is .892
"We're all starting to mature," Gene Perhac said. "The team is coming together little by little each day."
The most impressive performance came on Jan. 31 against Pine-Richland. The Rams were ranked No. 2 at the time and outshot Gateway, 44-16, in the contest.
But Gateway managed to get goals from its three all-star skaters -- Camden Cacolice, Jake Dehass and Taylor Siwik -- while its fourth all-star, Perhac, stopped 43-of-44 shots for the win.
"That was huge for us," Tyler Perhac said. "It showed us that when we are playing our game, we can beat anyone."
Perhac is once again at the top of the leaderboard in saves, sitting in first place in that category in Class AA entering this week with 529 in 18 games.
While he said he likes to have more shots thrown at him because it helps him get in a rhythm, there is the concern that he will wear down.
Because in addition to all the shots he sees on the Gators, he also is playing amateur hockey for the Allegheny Badgers 18U AA team.
Gene Perhac said his son doesn't seem to hit the wall.
"Usually when goaltenders see that much rubber, they wear down," Gene Perhac said. "But honestly, I'm not really concerned. Last year, he saw 500-plus shots for us and played on two teams. He seems to pick up his game the more shots he has seen."
As his recent play suggests.hsother