There aren’t many high school teams that platoon their goalies. There are even fewer who consider the system a luxury, an abundance rather than a scarcity of suitable options.
But Springfield manages to make it work, and they’ve done so with a flawless league record this season.
Friday’s 2-0 win over Penncrest was perhaps the last challenging hurdle toward an undefeated Central League slate, and it was authored by someone who hadn’t even played a majority of the games this season.
Bryan Biehl was unbeatable, stopping all 18 shots that came his way for his second shutout of the season. It’s the 11th game in which he’s seen action, while teammate Peter Sabato has played in 14. There’s even less separating them on the depth chart.
“Brian played really well tonight,” Springfield coach Phil Eastman said after Friday’s game. “We’re fortunate to have two good goalies who are both playing really well. It’s a matter of giving both a chance to play.”
Each has had his ups and downs this season. Biehl’s highlights include a pair of shutouts, the other being an 8-0 blanking of Haverford Jan. 7. But he has one of the team’s two losses to his name, a 4-2 defeat to West Chester East in which he allowed three goals on 29 shots (the final tally being an empty-netter).
Sabato was in goal for the 3-2 loss to Cardinal O’Hara as well as a 5-5 draw with Lower Merion earlier in the season and an uncharacteristically high-powered 10-7 early-season win against Upper Darby (on just 18 shots). He’s been on the right side of some big performances, like a 6-2 win over Garnet Valley and a 6-1 win over Conestoga.
Biehl’s numbers are more impressive. The sophomore has allowed just eight goals in 11 games, a 1.34 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage. The senior Sabato, meanwhile, has allowed 24 goals, a 2.87 GAA, and he’s stopping shots at a .830 clip.
The key to their coexistence in net is a long-standing relationship that allows them to weather the back-and-forth.
“It’s a little different situation, but as only a sophomore, I’m just lucky to be getting time,” Biehl said Friday. “Coach is just trying to do what’s best for the team and stick to the system and play the best guy each night.”
Part of the equation is that Biehl has gotten to know Sabato since they were ages 5 and 7, respectively, when the latter played on teams with Biehl’s older brother Nick, a forward on the Cougars.
But the other condition that makes this arrangement work is the team atmosphere that surrounds the two netminders. Not only does the aggressive forechecking team play excellent defense to make sure they don’t have much work to do between the pipes, but they foster an environment that encourages Biehl and Sabato to create a friendly competition that will ultimately benefit the team.
“You know in practice when he’s at one end and I’m at the other, it’s definitely a fun competition trying to be better than him,” Biehl said.
“They’re both great kids and they’re part of a great group of kids,” Eastman said. “Because of that, they’re able to stay focused when it’s their opportunity and take advantage of that.”