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Hockey

Seneca Valley hockey team advances to postseason

| Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, 4:27 p.m.
Seneca Valley's Alexander Crilley competes against North Allegeny during a PIHL game Feb. 4, 2016, at the Bairel Ice Complex.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Seneca Valley's Alexander Crilley competes against North Allegeny during a PIHL game Feb. 4, 2016, at the Bairel Ice Complex.
Seneca Valley's Mac Michael competes against North Allegeny during a PIHL game Feb. 4, 2016, at the Bairel Ice Complex.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Seneca Valley's Mac Michael competes against North Allegeny during a PIHL game Feb. 4, 2016, at the Bairel Ice Complex.
Seneca Valley's Luke Vilella competes against North Allegeny during a PIHL game Feb. 4, 2016, at the Bairel Ice Complex.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Seneca Valley's Luke Vilella competes against North Allegeny during a PIHL game Feb. 4, 2016, at the Bairel Ice Complex.
Seneca Valley's Shane Galis (91) and goalie Dylan Sloat compete against North Allegeny during a PIHL game Feb. 4, 2016, at the Bairel Ice Complex.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Seneca Valley's Shane Galis (91) and goalie Dylan Sloat compete against North Allegeny during a PIHL game Feb. 4, 2016, at the Bairel Ice Complex.
Seneca Valley's Christopher Lipnicky competes against North Allegeny during a PIHL game Feb. 4, 2016, at the Bairel Ice Complex.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Seneca Valley's Christopher Lipnicky competes against North Allegeny during a PIHL game Feb. 4, 2016, at the Bairel Ice Complex.

It's Penguins Cup playoff time and Seneca Valley's hockey team looks forward to it.

The Raiders finished the regular season with an 11-9-0 overall mark, which was good enough for the No. 6 seed in the Class AAA playoffs. They wanted a higher seed in the competitive field, but fourth-seeded Canon-McMillan beat sixth-seeded Butler for last season's championship so there's hope for all teams in the tournament.

This year, Seneca Valley thinks the race is close once again.

“The good thing that my guys have going is they have a belief that winning it can be a reality,” Seneca Valley coach Anthony Raco said. “You have a bunch of seniors willing to lay it all on the line. This is probably one of the tightest locker rooms I have ever coached. They are playing because it's a team concept but also playing for the seniors. The younger players don't want the seniors' careers to go away without title.

“North Allegheny wrapped up the top seed and has been playing well most of the season. Erie Cathedral Prep has been on a roll. Right now, those teams have the hot hand,” he continued. “But from all the coaches I've talked to, it just comes down to who comes out and plays the better game and capitalizes on chances. It's that close.”

The Raiders wrapped up the regular season with three wins in their final five games. Following a 5-2 loss to Bethel Park, they had an off week before the playoffs, which they enjoyed.

“I am happy where we are at without playing that final week,” Raco said. “In that Bethel game, we were shorthanded with some guys out of town, and we had two hurt defensemen. So, it was nice to have some time off to let people recover a bit. Without having a game to worry about, we could really focus on things we feel we need to tighten up on.”

Up top, senior Alex Crilley finished among the Class AAA leaders with 16 goals, 17 assists and 33 points. Linemates Chris Lipnicky (26 points) and Shane Galis (20) are hard to contain on offense as well.

“The thing about Crilley, he was piling up goals at the start of the year. Now, he has shown he has the ability to find other teammates and get on the assist side of things. It's creating a different dynamic,” Raco said. “He is probably the focal point teams want to stop. But other guys have been really coming on, and they can be a threat, too. If teams want to zone in on him, that's fine. We have others guys who can get the puck on net.”

Seneca Valley has taken strides in its own zone, too.

“Defensively, for the most part, we're really trying to focus on understanding when we have time to break the puck out when teams are on the forecheck and trying to adjust to certain styles of breakout,” Raco said.

Dylan Sloat seized the No. 1 goaltending position and has posted a 7-3 record, a 2.45 goals-against average and .912 save percentage — all of which rank among the goaltending leaders.

“He has played well since coming into the starting lineup midseason and taking over. It's a team effort, though,” Raco said. “The guys are blocking shots and doing unselfish things. Those are some of things you have to appreciate as a coach when you see the players are willing to do what it takes to get it done.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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