SPRINGFIELD -- As defenseman Bill Swahl prepared for the portrait that would memorialize his career as a Springfield hockey player, a sudden wave of realization swept over him."Guess this is the last time I'll ever get to do this,' Swahl said as he slipped the gold sweater with the big blue "S' over his head one final time.
The privilege of being part of one of Southeastern Pennsylvania's premier hockey programs isn't lost on the senior. And Swahl has given back every bit as much as he's gotten from the Cougars."The program was, I thought, very strong when I came in,' Swahl said. "I was kind of intimidated by the upperclassmen and I was nervous to see if I would make the team. I did, and as the years went on I never realized how much of an important factor I was to the team until the last game with everyone telling me all the positive things. It made me feel really happy and happy with the decisions that I made.'
Four years, four Flyers Cup finals, one outstanding career: That's the legacy Swahl leaves at Springfield.
It's a career appropriately capped by a Daily Times Player of the Year honor.
Joining Swahl on the All-Delco team are Springfield teammates Ryan Brawley, Kyle Riddle and Bryan Biehl, Garnet Valley's Steven Fedena, Cardinal O'Hara's Jeff Beck and Radnor's Oliver Brotman. Brawley and Beck are repeat All-Delcos. Only Fedena, Beck and Swahl are seniors.
The All-Delco team is picked by the Daily Times staff in consultation with area coaches.
However cliche it may sound, the notion that Swahl's contributions go beyond the stat sheet is profoundly true. On face value, the 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) accumulated by Swahl, mostly on the power play thanks to his howitzer of a slap shot, in 19 regular-season games isn't jump-off-the-page-type stuff.
But Swahl's game is one that must be witnessed to be fully appreciated. The senior's contributions to Springfield's staunch defense can't be underestimated. With the No. 1 shutdown defenseman patrolling the ice for large portions of the game, the Cougars surrendered just 1.96 goals per game (that number drops to 1.75 if you exclude the disastrous Flyers Cup Class A final, a 7-3 loss to West Chester East).
Making it all the more remarkable was the supporting cast of which Swahl was the leading light. His defensive partner changed from time to time before coach Phil Eastman finally settled on Steve Cavaliere, a converted forward.
For a defense primarily composed of offensive converts -- Ryan Vogt, while nominally a defenseman on the roster, played most of his time on the second line while Nick Biehl shuttled between roles -- Swahl was the rock upon which the tinkering could be done.
Couple that with the fact that Springfield faced the prospect of replacing its top defenseman from a year ago, All-Delco Kyle Loughlin, and the challenge was clear to Swahl. Not only would Swahl have to assume the senior leadership mantle vacated by Loughlin, he'd have to do so while embracing a more stay-at-home role that went beyond the puck-moving, power-play captain role."I think we had a lot stronger D last year and looking at this year, we had a few guys who played offense come back and play D. But I'm impressed with the way we handled the defensive situation. My partner Steve came a long way and listened to everything I had to say to him and did everything I told him and that made me happy."Kyle was very good, a big solid defenseman. I didn't really think about that. ... Definitely on the power play, he had a nice strong shot. I was always trying to compare it to his. When he hit, they were nice hits because he was big and strong. I looked up to Kyle last year a lot and the years before.'
As if he needed more of a challenge, Eastman also opted to rotate goalies through most of the season, splitting time between senior Peter Sabato and sophomore Bryan Biehl. It wasn't until the postseason started that Biehl took ownership of the role full time.
So the Cougars had a young team -- of the four Springfield All-Delcos, Swahl is the only one not to return next season -- oscillating goaltenders and an inexperienced defense. It makes Swahl's dominance of the position all the more impressive."It's tough being one of the leaders on the team,' he said. "It's a different team that you have to adjust to. We became very close as a group this year, and I really enjoyed it. It was a good time, probably one of the most memorable experiences.'
The final game in Swahl's career, the aforementioned loss to East, didn't measure up to his other outstanding moments, highlighted by winning the title in his sophomore season. But as he looks to continue his hockey career, either through junior hockey or scholastically at Arizona State or Lebanon Valley, he'll carry the experiences with him. And with a wisdom beyond his years, he does so with a deep appreciation for all that his coaches and his parents, Bill and Judy, have done to make it possible."It's a great experience,' Swahl said of the Flyers Cup. "I love the experience and I love the atmosphere. ... When I was an underclassman, I hated looking at the upperclassmen and knowing it was their last game. Now that I'm not going to be playing for us next year, I felt what that was like this year, and it was tough.'
Whatever talent may be returning for the Cougars, moving on from Swahl will be as tough for the team as for the player.