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Seneca Valley hockey off to good start

| Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

In his second season as varsity ice hockey coach at Seneca Valley, Anthony Raco is focused on building the Raiders' program into a contender again after a few rough years.

So far, so good.

Last season, Raco lead the Raiders to more than twice as many victories as the previous two combined. This year, Raco and his squad kicked things off by winning the St. Margaret's Foundation Fall Face-Off on Oct. 15 at BladeRunners Ice Complex in Harmarville. The junior varsity A team won the JV division to complete the sweep.

“We just want to have a winning culture at Seneca,” Raco said. “We want to be where (North Allegheny) was last year. They started out winning St. Margaret's then went on to the Penguins Cup.”

The Raiders aren't far removed from back-to-back appearances in the Penguins Cup championship, where they lost in 2008-09 and 2009-10. The next two seasons were a lost period for the Raiders, who were able to muster just six wins combined. They bounced back with a winning record last season (14-6-1), advancing to the quarterfinals in Raco's first year as head coach.

This season, they look even better.

The Raiders went 4-0-1, including a shootout win over Butler in the championship match. Goaltender Tanner Pfeffer was solid throughout and came up big in the title game when he tallied 26 saves, including a pair of stops in the shootout to seal the win. The offense was led by senior forward and team captain Chris Marziotto, who racked up eight goals and five assists in the tournament. Newcomer Alex Crilley, a sophomore who played for the AAA Pittsburgh Selects last season, had 11 points in the tournament and scored twice in the final game — including the game-tying goal with 35 seconds left in regulation.

Raco said he thinks his team can continue to succeed if the returning and new players perform at their peak.

“We kind of went into that tournament raw,” Raco said. “We were trying to play with the lineup a little bit. It's a good way to prepare and get these guys game experience going into the regular season.”

The Raiders begin their PIHL season on Oct. 29 with a rematch against Butler.

If they want to go where North Allegheny went last year, they have their work cut out for them. They play in the same section, 2-AAA, as the defending Penguins Cup champion Tigers.

“We really have a large goal ahead of us, and we really need to work to make it happen,” Raco said.

Working in Seneca's favor is that they have a stockpile of talent. While the varsity team has enjoyed a resurgence, the junior varsity squad has been even better. The JV A team (there also is a B team) went undefeated and won the junior varsity title last season. The team picked up where it left off by outscoring the opposition, 29-3, to breeze to the title at St. Margaret's.

“A lot of our kids have earned chances and they get calls to varsity,” JV coach Trevor Kuhlman said. “There's a lot of talent at SV from top to bottom. We're trying to build a winning atmosphere that rewards dedication and talent.”

Kuhlman, a 2003 Seneca Valley graduate, said the school didn't have a varsity hockey team until after he had graduated. Now the program boasts a varsity team on the rise along with a successful JV. There also is a middle school squad.

Ed Phillipps is a contribuuting writer for Trib Total Media.

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