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Hempfield hockey reflects on semifinal finish

| Thursday, March 13, 2014, 10:54 p.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Hempfield's Anthony Ciocca battles Greensburg Central Catholic goaltender Patrick Teich and defenseman Zach Banko #8 in front of the net during their game at Kirk S. Nevin Arena on Feb. 20, 2014 in Greensburg.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Hempfield's Jacob Bartus #13 and Avery Lavella #24 celebrate a first period goal against Greensburg Central Catholic goaltender Patrick Teich during their game at Kirk S. Nevin Arena on Feb. 20, 2014 in Greensburg.

In just a mere 51 minutes of regulation time, the Hempfield hockey team's playoff win over Indiana summed up an entire season of progress for the Spartans.

With its 6-4 PIHL Open Cup playoff quarterfinal win over Indiana, Hempfield knocked off the Indians for the first time in three tries this season.

Not only did the win point to Hempfield's progress over the course of this year, but also to the program's overall growth, as the Spartans' 17 regular-season wins nearly tripled their output from the previous two campaigns combined.

“The game at Indiana was the pinnacle I guess for our guys because that's a game, where they worked so hard and a game they deserved to win,” Hempfield coach Denny Zeravica said. “It really proved how much they've come along in those years.”

In their first season in the PIHL's Open Division, after dropping down from Class AAA, the Spartans posted a 17-3 record, finishing second in Section 2 while also achieving something no player on the team had previously accomplished — winning a playoff game.

“A lot of these guys, this is the first time they've ever made the playoffs. … To see these guys finally make the playoffs and then make the run that we did even though we came up short, we had some big wins in the playoffs before that,” Zeravica said.

“It was nice to finally get in the playoffs and get a feel for what that's like for Hempfield hockey,” senior forward Avery Lavella added.

Lavella was instrumental in Hempfield's playoff push, scoring five goals in the Spartans' two playoff wins, a pair of 6-4 victories over Carrick and Indiana. He scored the team's lone goal in its 5-1 loss to eventual champion Baldwin.

“I didn't try to change my strategy at all going into the playoffs. I just tried to do my best and just work hard for the team,” Lavella said.

“He was huge for us in the playoffs,” Zeravica said. “He's one who took his role early in the year as someone that was going to be one of our go-to guys.”

Lavella was one of six seniors that paced the Spartans. Anthony Ciocca led the team with 35 goals and 21 assists for 56 points while Lavella and Michael Donofrio chipped in with 26 and 17 goals, respectively.

But it will be the underclassmen that will be counted upon to continue the momentum that this year's team created. Juniors Conor Cortazo (46 points this season), Jacob Bartus and Matt Kalafsky will be the Spartans' seniors next year, while sophomore goalie Garrett Ciaramella will solidify Hempfield in the crease.

With its returning players, combined with a middle school program that boasts two teams with nearly perfect records this season, Zeravica is optimistic about what the future holds.

“I told them to look at the foundation they've laid for teams in the next years to come.”

Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.

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