North Xtra: Seneca Valley hockey looking for return to form

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On Nov. 13, the Seneca Valley hockey team handed preseason PIHL Class AAA No. 2 team Canon-McMillan its first loss.

The team already owned a win against another top-five preseason squad, Peters Township.

The Raiders then followed the win against the Big Macs with a win against Norwin and a tie against Canon-McMillan last week. That gives Seneca Valley (3-0-1) seven points, one more than it had all of last season when it was 3-18.

"It's very important for us to get off to a good start," said Anthony Raco, in his first season as the Raiders head coach. "These are legitimate teams we are playing at the start of the season. We need to continue to do well and keep up the momentum."

One of the keys has been the play of goaltender Tanner Pfeffer. In the two games against Canon-McMillan, the Raiders were outshot, 104-37, but Pfeffer stopped 101 shots to help the team earn three points.

"He did a really nice job," Raco said. "He did not allow a lot of second opportunities."

Offensively, the team returned its top three scorers from last season -- Luke Reed, Andrew Gagnon and Chris Marziotto. The three have combined for 14 points in the four games, led by Marziotto's six points.

"Chris is our captain and Luke is the assistant captain," Raco said. "I look for leadership from both and they are on board with what I expect from the team.

"I expect Chris to be our top point scorer. He plays every aspect of the game well. He is sound positionally; he can break away from the opposition with his speed; he is comfortable shooting from distance and he works well with his line."

Marziotto plays on a line with Gagnon and Brandon McFarlane.

Despite being in his first season as head coach, Raco is familiar with most of the players on the team from his time as Seneca Valley's freshman and junior varsity coach. He took over the team when last season's head coach, Denis Kirstein, took the same position at Upper St. Clair.

Raco said he didn't change too much about the way the team has played, but tried to change the team's mentality.

"The difference with us is our players believe now that they can compete with anyone," Raco said.

The Raiders showed they could hang with some of the top teams last season. More than half of the Raiders losses were by two goals or less, including losses to top teams Canon-McMillan, North Allegheny twice and Penguins Cup champion Bethel Park. The Raiders also beat the Black Hawks last season.

Raco had lofty expectations before his team even stepped on the ice this season.

"Anything less than a Penguins Cup would not be up to expectations," Raco said a few days before the game against Peters Township.

The team's start has only reinforced those expectations. hsother

First Published November 29, 2012 5:00 AM


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