Sabev among league goalies having superb seasons
MSP Magazine goaltender Alex Sabev, center, stars for Irondale during the high school season and regularly sees 50 or more shots per game. He's been an Elite League standout this fall, ranking among the top five in save percentage and goals-against average. Photo by Loren Nelson, LegacyHockeyPhotography.com
It’s been a great year for goaltending in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League.
There have been four shutouts by Elite League goaltenders so far this year, one more than all of last season. Six goalies have save percentages better than 90, also an improvement from 2022.
Spectacular saves have been plentiful, and high-scoring games, although still common, have been whittled down significantly. Goalies on every team in the uptempo, high-shot volume league have turned in multiple eye-catching performances.
MSP Magazine’s Alex Sabev is one of the many Elite League goaltenders in the midst of superb seasons. As undermanned Irondale’s starting goaltender during the high school season, Sabev is used to seeing 50 to 60 shots a game. He’s noticed the quality, not quantity, of shots in the Elite League is markedly different.
“You get even a couple inches off your angles, and these guys will pick you apart,” said Sabev, who will be in contention for the Frank Brimsek Award that goes to the state’s top high school senior goaltender.
Sabev faced a whopping 1,117 shots last high school season. There were 11 games in which he stopped 50 or more shots. In his 10 Elite League starts Sabev has mostly been in his comfort zone, facing more than 50 shots four times, including two in which he saw 60 or more.
“It is honestly a lot of fun to see a lot of shots,” Sabev said. “I think it’s pretty beneficial, the fact that I see a lot of shots night in and night out.”
MSP Magazine coach Chris McAlpine scouted Sabev multiple times during the winter. He saw a goaltender, “just getting shelled, and doing everything he could to stop the puck.”
“You just want someone who competes, and he’s been great,” McAlpine said. “He is a calming presence for our team. Even if he gives up a goal, for the most part the other team has had to earn it.”
Sabev is third in the league with a .922 save percentage and fourth with a 3.54 goals-against average. He’s joined by Sit Mutual Funds’ Josh Middleton of St. Louis Park and Max Varner of Buffalo as hailing from non-traditional goaltending hotbeds. Their presence is reminiscent of that of Alex Lyon, the former Lake of the Woods goaltender who played in the Elite League as a senior in 2010, starred at Yale University and saw action in the NHL playoffs last season for the Florida Panthers.
Sabev is hoping to parlay his Elite League and high school seasons into a stint with a junior team and, eventually, a Division I college program.
"I’d love to hopefully play college someday, that would be a big dream," he said. "I think I have proven I can play against the top talent, and it's really nice to know (scouts) are up there watching and keeping an eye on me."