By Matt Popchock
Do you think Team Pittsburgh will be starved for offense when it faces some of the stiffest competition in the country the next five days?
Don’t be silly.
That’s Justin Sabilla’s job.
When the puck drops, the Chartiers Valley senior and multiple Player of the Month selection might be the most serious young man on the ice. What’s silly are the numbers registered during the 2011-12 PIHL season by the one known to Twitter followers as “@Silly_Sabs.”
Could even a player of such disproportionate skill dominate in Class AA, where the competition generally improved, and his Colts had to survive one of the most brutal sections in the league?
Don’t be silly.
But seriously, folks…
Sabilla made any and all doubters look silly, to say nothing of the various goaltenders still looking for their shorts, with one of the best regular campaigns in league history. He led Class AA with 54 goals, an eye-popping feat for any player in the PIHL’s “pure” classifications, and paced the classification with 73 points, almost single-handedly putting Chartiers Valley in position to challenge for its first Penguins Cup since its state championship run in 1986.
Furthermore, he will most assuredly give Team Pittsburgh a sporting chance in the 26th annual America’s Showcase, which begins Wednesday at 9:00 A.M. at the RMU Island Sports Center in Coraopolis. Team Pittsburgh begins round robin play with a 3:00 P.M. game against Team New England-North.
There’s nothing like seeing the finest in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League compete for local and state gold, but one of the toughest parts of our job, is that, every year, there’s a group of exceptional players we don’t get to see skate on the biggest stage. Despite Sabilla’s leadership, the Colts bowed in the Penguins Cup Semifinals for the second year in a row.
That will change tomorrow, when one of the most dynamic players in western Pennsylvania gets another shot at glory, and another shot to make opposing players from more than just his own backyard look silly…and with none other than Lou Biancanello, his varsity head coach, on the bench.
Don’t wipe that smirk off your face just yet. Here’s a look back at a season that made many of us–including Biancanello–smile:
Oct. 27 – Sabilla scores unassisted in the first period (theme warning), sets up a game-winning goal by Robert Ferrari just as the second period expires, and takes matters into his own hands with an unassisted insurance goal midway through the third in a 5-3 win over 2010 Pennsylvania Cup champion Latrobe at the Mount Lebanon Ice Arena.
Nov. 10 – Sabilla caps a streak of three consecutive games with at least three goals with a double hat trick in an 8-2 shocker over West Allegheny at the Airport Ice Arena. He wasn’t done with those, either. The Indians, as many of us know, would go on to win the Penguins Cup.
Dec. 8 – Sabilla contributes his third four-goal effort of the PIHL season in a bizarre 8-7 overtime loss to reigning state champion and section rival Bishop Canevin, a game that caused many of us to take notice of the exciting forward:
Dec. 20 – Sabilla did get to return to CONSOL Energy Center after all, albeit not in his normal game day attire. He was honored there as one of four PIHL Players of the Month for November 2011, having put up 14 goals and four helpers in four games.
Jan. 26 – Sabilla, fresh off an All-Star appearance, chases fellow All-Star Taylor Cestra en route to his second double hat trick of the year in an 11-3 laugher over Plum at the Mount Lebanon Ice Arena:
He ultimately one-upped himself by breaking out the chapeaus four games in a row this time.
Jan. 30 – Sabilla brings his hatty dance to Mercyhurst College, as the Colts ambush Erie Cathedral Prep 9-4 behind his five goals. He scored three times on the power play and once shorthanded, and Chartiers Valley used an uncanny seven-goal second period to avenge an earlier 5-1 loss to the section rival Ramblers.
Feb. 9 – Sabilla shows what he is made of in the clutch with another HT in a chippy rematch with Bishop Canevin that ends in a 5-3 win for Char’ Valley. He produced the game-winning goal, his seventh of the regular season, and sent an already boisterous Mount Lebanon Ice Arena into a frenzy by completing the hat trick on a shorthanded breakaway late in the third period:
It was a win that loomed large; Chartiers Valley would eventually clinch its first section title of any kind since 1990.
Mar. 15 – Sabilla blasts a power play goal from center point, his second goal of the night, for the decisive tally in a rowdy 7-3 Penguins Cup Quarterfinal win over Plum at the Mount Lebanon Ice Arena. The Mustangs gave his team a scare, not to mention a few bumps and bruises, in this contest, which featured over 60 combined penalty minutes, but the Colts took this horse race by several lengths, bolstered by their captain’s five points.
Mar. 20 – Sabilla scores again on the power play, and ties the game late, but it isn’t enough in an aforementioned Penguins Cup Semifinal loss:
And now he’s returning to the proverbial scene of the crime, probably motivated as ever to atone for the championship that eluded him and his team during varsity play.
Why so serious?
Let’s get silly, Sabs.
(Special thanks to the PIHL Network and Rubino Productions for their contributions to this post.)
(Follow the tournament on Twitter @AmericaShowcase.)
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)