Jake Sibell has made a point of spending more time at the rink in his final year of junior hockey. As a 21-year old, Sibell ages out of junior hockey and can continue his hockey career in college hockey.
Sibell’s play for the Aberdeen Wings has also given him more game time in net than any other goalie in the North American Hockey League, and has helped the Wings climb to the stop of the standings.
“It’s the last year, so you have to enjoy it,” Sibell said. “I’ve been trying to stick around the rink more after practice and have fun with the guys and with the practices and workouts and everything that goes with junior hockey.”
Game nights have been particularly enjoyable in Aberdeen.
Playing minutes is just one statistic in which Sibell leads the NAHL. The 21-year-old Niagara University commit from Isanti, Minnesota, has massive leads in wins, shutouts, goals against average and winning percentage.
The Wings, who are 41-3-0-1 and have clinched the Central Division title. Coach and General Manager Scott Langer appreciates being able to comfortably count on Sibell being ready when needed.
“He’s consistently in the game,” Langer said. “His focus level is phenomenal. There are games when he doesn’t see a ton of shots and then next thing you know, they’re right on top of him.
“He’s able to stay on his toes and stay within the game.”
Sibell is making the most of his extensive ice time, especially after patiently waiting for this opportunity.
In stops with three teams, Sibell appeared in 18 games in 2017-18, his first in the NAHL. A season in the USHL and 19 games with the Sioux City Musketeers followed before Sibell arrived in Aberdeen and played 21 games last season.
Sibell is at 38 games and counting as the No. 1 goalie on the No. 1 team in the NAHL as the regular season nears to conclusion. Aberdeen has six more NAHL regular season games remaining throughout April.
“My mindset throughout my years of being a backup is there’s going to be a day when you get a chance, so I never really thought about being a backup,” Sibell said. “You’re going to get an opportunity and once it comes, you better take advantage of it.”
Sibell has done just that. His 35 wins are one short of doubling the three goalies in a tie for second-most in the league. His 10 shutouts match the combined total of the next three goalies in the league. The 1.16 goals against average put up by Sibell is more than three-quarters of a goal better than the rest of the NAHL. Sibell’s .954 save percentage is well clear of Christian Stoever from the New Jersey Titans, who is second-best at .938 in less than half as many games.
The numbers go on and on. Sibell didn’t lose a game he started until February, and that was a shootout loss in which he only allowed two goals. His only regulation loss came on April 6. He’s been named NAHL Goaltender of the Month three times this season.
With Sibell repeatedly coming through, Langer has resisted any urge to change his team’s approach.
“We certainly could take a lot more high-risk chances with Jake in net because he does such a great job shutting them down, but our team philosophy is we’re going to play well-rounded defense,” Langer said. “We try to help Jake out as much as possible and not just put the weight of the world on his shoulders.”
Sibell appreciates that approach.
“He’s just sticking to the identity of Wings hockey and I’m enjoying it,” Sibell said. “I’ll take it.”
The Wings and Sibell have taken the approach right to the top of the NAHL.
“We’re all about helping and defense and when we get the chance to score, we go for it,” Sibell said. “I think it’s all about buying in for each other. The fact that we’ve been pretty much shutdown on defense has helped us win games and get points this year.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.