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Former assistant assumes control of Serra hockey program

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Monday, May 13, 2013, 12:11 a.m.

Brian Boehm recently stepped down as coach of the Serra hockey team after five section titles in seven seasons.

“I thought we had the best (coaching) staff in Pittsburgh,” Boehm said last week. “I didn't think anybody had a better overall staff.”

Now, a member of that staff has taken over the Eagles.

Dennis Tokarski was named Serra's new coach last week. Tokarski, an Irwin resident, had been an assistant under Boehm with the Eagles for the past four seasons.

“The way I looked at it was I didn't want the program to stagnate; I want to keep building on what we have done the last four years,” Tokarski said. “There's a lot of returning players, and we have an opportunity to continue to grow the program and have it be successful.”

Tokarski has extensive coaching experience in the local level, having been on the staffs of the Junior Penguins, the Amateur Penguins, Robert Morris University's club team and the Westmoreland Eagles Hockey Association in addition to Serra and Norwin high schools over the past 17 years.

It is with Westmoreland that Tokarski most impressed Boehm because Tokarski served as one of the first coaches for many of the players who would go on to make Latrobe a PIHL Class AA dynasty in recent years. The Wildcats won three consecutive Penguins Cups and state championships from 2008-2010.

“He brings a lot of years of coaching, a lot of experience,” said Boehm, now the coach of West Virginia University's Division II club team. Boehm's wife, Denise, was hired as associate director for Patient Care Services at the VA hospital in Clarksburg, W.Va.

“He's a different personality than me, to be sure, but that's not a bad thing,” Boehm said. “He ended up like an older brother to me. I never had an older brother, but Dennis was really my emotional balance point. There were a lot of times when things go nuts when I got pretty emotional — he was one of the guys who always brought me back from the brink.

“It's a heck of a hire.”

Tokarski takes over a team that, at 12-12, had its most mediocre record of Boehm's tenure. But the Eagles, who were a Penguins Cup quarterfinalist, had just three seniors and one junior on the roster.

Forward Jacob Gunn will be Serra's lone senior next season. Goalie Ian Ritchie, forward Bill Purdue and defenseman Jon Henschel are rising juniors that will be counted on for leadership on what figures to still be a young team next season.

“That shouldn't change my goals — they're going to be the same,” said Tokarski, who grew up in Avalon. “First off, the goal is to get to the playoffs because once you get to the playoffs, anything can happen. But I'd like to win our section and keep it within the upper echelon of Single-A.

“With the talent we have coming back, it's all a possibility.”

Tokarski, like most hockey coaches, likes to emphasize defense.

“But the way I look at it, I need to look at the talent I have and build the system around the talent,” Tokarski said. “I don't want to fit a square peg into a round hole. I like to look into the talent and then make the determination.

“It really gets down to evaluating players and making a good determination with the coaching staff on what direction we want to take. We'll pride ourselves on defense — but we'll do whatever we have to do to win.”

Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.

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