Seneca Valley hockey breaks the ice with tournament wins
This preseason was twice as nice for the Seneca Valley ice hockey program.
The Raiders captured championships at the varsity and junior varsity levels at the St. Margaret Foundation Fall Faceoff tournament.
“We kind of realized what kind of teams we had in our association during tryouts,” Seneca Valley varsity head coach Anthony Raco said. “It was real difficult for the coaches to make final decisions to put together rosters. It's nice for us to have that amount of talent. If we have injuries, we know we have guys who can play. I always leave some spots open for call-ups to keep them competitive.”
While not part of PIHL play, the tournament offers a preview of what teams can expect once regular-season play begins this week. There were 20 squads from various classifications competing at the tournament.
“That is a great tournament to start the season. Coaches don't always have their lines figured out, so it's a great way to experiment,” Raco said. “We scheduled some scrimmages before the tournament, but they were canceled. So, it was good for us to see where we stand. We can look at the tournament and see the positives and things we need to build upon.”
Last year, North Allegheny used its tournament championship to springboard to a strong PIHL regular season and, eventually, a Penguins Cup and state championship.
“We want to follow that. All teams play for that,” Raco said. “It's good for us. It's nice knowing that we can play with some good teams. There was a lot of talent in that tournament. We have to be willing to work hard and continue to improve, though.”
The Raiders opened the tournament with a 4-3 overtime loss to Canon-McMillan.
“After that game, we juggled the lines around a bit,” Raco said. “We took a different approach on how wanted to use some players. It was a good eye-opener for us in how we need to play in our system.”
Seneca Valley bounced back for wins over Mars (3-1), Latrobe (5-1), Canon-McMillan (9-4) and Hampton (4-1) to reach the championship against Butler. The squads tied, 4-4, through regulation and overtime. The Raiders pulled out the 5-4 victory in a shootout.
“It was a good championship game. I paid attention to what Butler had done over the summer. I knew they'd be prepared,” Raco said. “It was a tough matchup. It was a really fun game to coach.”
Butler took a 4-3 lead with 2:01 to play in regulation on Troy Double's short-handed goal. However, the Raiders' Alexander Crilley found the back of the net with 35 seconds remaining to force overtime. Peter Kipin and Crilley scored in the shootout to secure the championship for Seneca Valley.
“We got that tying goal in under a minute with our goalie pulled. It was an exciting atmosphere. It was really a nice way to kick off the season,” Raco said. “From the second game, we continued to play better. We need to get better getting the puck out on defense. We had some turnovers, and that's something we need to work on cutting down.”
Chris Marziotto led the Raiders with 13 points at the tournament, which tied him for fourth among all scorers.
Spencer Schutte and Crilley both had 11 points, Kipin added nine and Brendan McFarlane had seven. Goaltender Tanner Pfeffer earned all five wins and recorded 124 saves.
“We have good team defense and we are getting a lot of scoring chances that are coming from breaks in the defense end,” Pfeffer said. “We were just a little rusty and nervous in that first game because it was our first action of the season. We got better each game and the chemistry got better too.”
In the JV tournament, Seneca Valley posted wins over Chartiers Valley, West Allegheny, Shaler, Bethel Park and Pine-Richland.
Evan Kozlowski, Sam Johnson, Connor Williams and Chris Lipnicky led the Raiders with five points apiece. Dylan Sloat earned all of the wins in goal.
Joe Sager is a freelance writer.