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Seneca Valley hockey team is back on track

| Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, 11:02 p.m.
Seneca Valley's Luke Reed (right) lines up for a faceoff against Canon-McMillan earlier this season. Louis Raggiunti | Tribune-Review
Seneca Valley forward Spencer Schutte is averaging better than a point per game this season. Louis Raggiunti | Tribune-Review

Exactly one month into its PIHL season, Seneca Valley already had matched its league win total for the previous 31 months combined.

“It's a good feeling, and we're happy where we're at,” coach Anthony Raco said days after the Raiders improved to 6-0-1 with a 4-1 win against Hempfield on Dec. 6.

“It's still early in the season, so we're trying not to get too ahead of ourselves. We're trying to stay composed and stay focused and just take it game by game.”

Seneca Valley lost for the first time this season Thursday, 7-1, to defending Penguins Cup Class AAA champion Bethel Park.

But even after dropping to 6-1-1, the Raiders have as many victories as they had in the previous two seasons combined.

After appearing in Penguins Cup championship games in 2009 and '10 at Mellon Arena, Seneca Valley went 3-16-1 in 2010-11 and 3-19 last season.

“We seem to be a more defensive team, and it starts with (goalie) Tanner Pfeffer, who's come up big in some games for us,” Raco said.

“The defense is solid. ... We've just been able to get the puck out in transition — and the guys we get it to are taking advantage of those opportunities. It's just coming down to us being disciplined and playing in our own system.”

Raco is in his first season as the varsity coach after four years as an assistant with the program. He replaced Denis Kirstein, who took the Raiders to the Penguins Cup final during each of his first two seasons. Kirstein is now the coach at Upper St. Clair.

Raco previously was coach of the freshman and junior-varsity teams at Seneca Valley, so he's moved up through the program with many of the Raiders' current varsity players. He estimates there are only three players he hasn't coached.

“Coach Raco is a great coach,” Seneca Valley captain Chris Marziotto said. “We love him, and we go back a long way with him. And we have a ton of fun on this team.”

It's a lot easier to have fun when you're winning and when everyone's playing a part.

More so than in the recent past, Seneca Valley's contributions are coming from multiple lines and defense pairings.

Marziotto, a junior, centers what would be considered the Raiders' top line with juniors Brendan MacFarlane and Andy Gagnon (although Gagnon is out with an injury).

Senior and alternate captain Luke Reed typically skates with juniors Ethan Kippin and Spencer Schutte in what has been the Raiders' most productive line so far. Kippin has a team-high 15 points, Reed leads the team with eight goals, and Schutte is tied with Kippin for the lead in assists with nine.

Seniors Casey Kramer and Jake Sarachine often serve as the Raiders' top defensive pairing.

“We're getting production out of a lot of people,” Raco said. “Whereas last year I think there was a lot of reliance on a group of guys, and that's hard for a team to rely on certain players. With some additions to this team, that opens things up for those other players as well.”

Even on the heels of two disappointing seasons, the proud Raiders have kept their sights set high.

“Of course,” said Marziotto, “the goal is to get to Consol and win it all.”

“Anything for us less than the Penguins Cup is not meeting expectations,” Raco said. “People looked at this team with three wins the past two years and are saying that the playoffs would be great. But for us, anything other than us not winning the title is not meeting our standard.”

Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.

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