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Hempfield hockey team hopes to improve in coach's 2nd season

| Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

It took longer than he hoped, but Hempfield coach Denny Zeravica finally has his team looking how he envisioned.

Hempfield went just 6-20 last year in Zeravica's first season with the PIHL Open Class team. But with a second season of teaching his system, he expects different results.

“It's basically a whole brand new team,” Zeravica said. “My first year here, (the system) was hard to get across. We had a bunch of seniors and they more wanted to do their thing and run the system from their last year.”

There's certainly a learning curve that comes with a new system. The Spartans are fortunate to have last year's captain, senior Mike DoNofrio, returning. With his help, the younger players have been picking up the system in a hurry, which has led to results on the ice.

Hempfield finished second in the Greensburg Central Catholic preseason tournament, winning its first four games before losing to Penn-Trafford of Class AAA.

“It really helped us out with our confidence, and we were able to kind of get a feel for where we were all at as far as playing style,” senior defenseman Zach Iezzi said. “It's definitely helpful to see what we need to work on and where we are as a team going into the season.

Anthony Ciocca led the team in scoring in the tournament after missing the majority of last year due to a tailbone injury. Zeravica expects him to be a top contributor throughout the rest of the season.

“He loves the game, he's talented and he just wants to play,” Zeravica said. “He's a competitor and stubborn at times. If he could be out on the ice every minute, he would.”

The team-wide attacking system Zeravica implemented demands a lot from his players, especially the defensemen. With DoNofrio leaving the defense to play forward this year, Iezzi and fellow senior Billy Hayden will handle the bulk of the defensive work.

“(DoNofrio) is probably the best player I've ever skated with,” Iezzi said. “He is good at every position. He benefits all of the people on the ice whether they're defensemen or offensemen. We're going to lose some talent on the defensive end but we can all pick up the slack.”

The 14-man team, that also features centers Conor Cortazzo and Avery Lavella and sophomore goalie Garrett Ciaramella, will certainly have to battle depth issues. Still, Hempfield is ready for a big leap forward.

“We want to go and win our division. That's our main thing to start with.” Zeravica said. “You know, our kids, they talk about winning every game, and if we do, that's great. I'm glad the kids have those expectations in themselves. I think a lot of that comes from the preseason and how strong we played.”

Hempfield will open the regular season Monday at 9:15 p.m. against Keystone Oaks.

Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at ghorvath@tribweb.com.

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