New coach leads Hempfield hockey into season
In recent years, the Hempfield hockey team has always had at least one of the PIHL's best goal and/or point producers.
The Spartans have generally had one of the PIHL's top scoring teams in that time, too.
Now, new coach Denny Zeravica says, it's time to win.
A Norwin graduate who formerly was the coach of the Knights, Zeravica strives to pull together a Hempfield team that has had its share of high-end talent over the past few seasons but has struggled in the standings because it has consistently been among its classification's worst in goals-against average.
“We're trying to change the culture of how it's been the last couple years and the attitudes of the players and everything,” Zeravica said. “Letting them know what it's going to take. Hopefully, with all my experience coaching at the college level and the high school level, I know what to show them what it takes to turn it around and give us a winning season.”
Over the past three seasons, Hempfield has boasted at least one player in the top three of its PIHL classification in goals, points and/or points per game. Collectively, the Spartans were third in Class AAA in goals as a team in 2010-11.
However, Hempfield did not post a winning record in any of the most recent three seasons because it twice has allowed more goals than any team in its class — the other time, it ranked third-to-last.
“Defense has definitely been a focus this preseason,” Zeravica said Thursday before his team's season-opening loss to Central Catholic.
“There's been more discipline,” Hempfield captain Mike DoNofrio said, “and there's a lot of change in our system and in coordination.
“We're becoming more of a team. Right now, everybody's putting in an effort. There's a lot more teamwork, and it just feels like more of a team effort now.”
Kyle Rosendale and Clay Plyler were great players for Hempfield who have graduated over the past two years. They used to be on the ice the majority of Hempfield's games.
Zeravica is trying for a more balanced approach to constructing his lines and defense pairings.
Hempfield alternate captain Justin Bartus joins Steve Veliky and Tyler Hendrick on an all-senior line. The plan is for junior Anthony Ciocca, sophomore Conor Cortazzo and freshman Collin Plyler (Clay's bother) to be skating together as a unit.
Zeravica plans on sophomore Channing Gorscak and freshman Andrew Koziara skating with a junior varsity call-up this season. Gorscak and Koziara play for the Pittsburgh Selects.
DoNofrio and senior Dylan Mitchell make up one defense pairing; juniors Billy Hayden and Zach Iezzi another.
All will get significant ice time. Even the goaltending duo of senior Alex Androkites and junior Tommy Anthony could ultimately end up splitting time.
“I know in the past, the same kids had a lot of ice time,” Zeravica said. “That's not me. We use a full team. One thing we need to instill into the guys is that it's not like there's only one or two guys we're counting on. It's got to be a team effort.”
A team effort that, if executed successfully, has Zeravica thinking big.
“I think we have the talent to win our (section) and hopefully get a higher seed for (the playoffs),” Zeravica said. “The ultimate goal, like everyone, is to get down to Consol (Energy Center) for the (Penguins Cup) championship game. But first we want to prove ourselves.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.