By Chadd Cripe
The Idaho Statesman
BOISE, Idaho – David Bararuk came to Boise to rebuild his confidence.
Consider it done.
The Idaho Steelheads’ youngest player has produced 13 points in a limited role during their run for the Kelly Cup.
Bararuk, 20, is a rookie forward who signed a three-year contract with the Dallas Stars last summer and expected to spend all season with Utah of the American Hockey League.
He ended up in Boise for six weeks in the regular season, which earned him the right to return for the playoffs when Utah failed to make the postseason.
What once was disappointment now is excitement.
“I look at it and it’s probably the best thing for me,” Bararuk said of his midseason demotion. “I’ve never been past the second round in the playoffs. This is big excitement for me.”
Bararuk and the Steelheads hold a 2-0 lead over the Florida Everblades in the best-of-seven ECHL Kelly Cup Finals. Game 3 is Wednesday night at the Bank of America Centre.
He picked up four assists in the first two games in Estero, Fla., to climb to a tie for third on the team in playoff scoring. That’s despite missing the first three games while with Utah and usually serving as the 10th forward, getting occasional ice time.
His puck-handling, creativity, vision and skating make him a legitimate NHL prospect. The 2002 fifth-round draft pick scored a goal this season from behind the net by banking the puck off the goaltender’s pads.”He’s got tremendous offensive ability, and you can’t teach that,” Idaho coach John Olver said.
Bararuk also is a bit eccentric. He showed up for the two home games in the Western Conference Finals against Gwinnett wearing a white tuxedo — it was a whiteout, after all — he danced after scoring a goal in Game 4 of that series and he tried earlier this year to get a DVD system installed in his Cadillac Escalade.
Teammates call him “Shimmy,” Olver said, because of his ability to wiggle his slender frame (6-foot, 180 pounds) through traffic.
“He’s a free-spirited guy,” Olver said.
Bararuk has spent most of his first year away from home at the side of fellow Stars signee Brett Draney. The two met at Stars training camp in Vail, Colo., and played together in Utah and Idaho.
They even went to Utah’s Snowbird Resort together for a couple days at Christmas.
“He’s a character,” Draney said. “He likes to have fun being around the guys.”
Both say they will try to avoid each other during the offseason. That might not be possible.
Bararuk calls Draney “my family.”
“It’s just one of those chemistry things with friends,” Bararuk said. “You try to find a guy you can most fit in with, and he was my matchup, I guess.”
Bararuk played junior hockey in his hometown of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, instead of moving away like most young players. He enjoys his newfound freedom.
“It was time for me to move on,” he said. “It’s nice maturing more and more.”
He needs to grow in another way this offseason. His biggest weakness is his body, which isn’t built for the rigors of pro hockey.
“He just has to mature physically, which is something he understands,” Olver said.
Bararuk also understands how his game must change to thrive in the playoffs. Offensive creativity gives way to defensive practicality.
Bararuk didn’t have a single turnover in Game 2 against Florida, Olver said, and he played a much larger role with the injury to Lance Galbraith.
“He’s getting a taste of playoff hockey at the professional level,” Olver said, “and learning how to modify his game so that our team can be successful, and ultimately he can be productive in the playoffs.”
And, Bararuk hopes, move back up the pro hockey chain.
“It’s all a learning experience,” he said. “… Experience is a big part of the game.”