South/West Xtra: With top scorers returning, Chartiers Valley figures to contend

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For three consecutive seasons, the Chartiers Valley High School hockey team has lost in the PIHL Class AA Penguins Cup semifinals.

With last season's top two scorers from the classification -- Anthony Franks and Cullen McMahon -- returning, the Colts (3-2) are hoping to break through that semifinal barrier this season.

"We have the top scorers returning and an all-star defenseman in Tyler Stevenson," said Sean Biancaniello, who is in his second season as the Colts coach. "But to get to that level, we need the young parts of our roster integrated. We have a lot of young talent from our undefeated junior varsity team."

Maybe the brightest of the stars of last season's junior varsity team, Alex Stevenson, has already made his presence felt for the Colts this season.

Stevenson, a sophomore who is Tyler's brother, played 14 games as a "call-up" for Chartiers Valley's varsity squad last season. This year, he is playing on the team's top line with McMahon and Franks and has five goals and four assists through five games.

"He's clicking on all cylinders right now," Biancaniello said. "I think he's one of the best skaters in Class AA already. The sky is the limit for him."

Of course, it helps that Stevenson is playing on a line with two players who combined for 74 goals and 131 points last season.

Biancaniello has been coaching Franks and McMahon since they were in sixth grade and on the Colts' freshman team. He said he has a strong relationship with both and it has been a joy to watch the two seniors grow throughout their careers.

"Watching them play is one of the reasons I keep coaching," Biancaniello said. "I've gotten to see them blossom from sixth graders to their junior and senior years. I have a great rapport with them on and off the ice and our offense runs through them."

The duo has come out of the games well this season. Through five games, Franks has tallied eight goals and 10 assists while McMahon has eight goals and eight assists.

Just as Franks and McMahon are the leaders for the Colts up front, Tyler Stevenson is the unquestioned leader on the blue line. An all-star defender last season, he has two goals and six assists while playing solid defense through three games.

Along with Stevenson, Dominic Slovic, Daniel Bigley and Dan Hartman make up the team's top four defensemen who help protect new starting goaltender Alex Chabala.

Chabala was the team's backup to three-time all-star goaltender Noah Stevenson the last few seasons. But with Stevenson gone, Biancaniello brought in Craig Stevenson, Tyler and Alex's father and Noah's uncle, to help train Chabala.

Chabala allowed 13 combined goals in losses to Bishop Canevin and Greater Latrobe, but has allowed just four goals in the Colts' three wins against Montour (twice) and Franklin Regional.

"Alex could have been a starter the last few years on a lot of other teams," Biancaniello said. "He's a solid goaltender who is very athletic."

The losses to the Wildcats and Crusaders exemplified the team's problems in other big games the past few seasons. Biancaniello said that often times in big games, the team gets away from its system and the Colts' star players try to do too much instead of playing within themselves.

That will have to change if the Colts want to get to Consol Energy Center in March.

"I think we've fallen short in big games in the past because we haven't had that systematic team play," Biancaniello said. "We're all pumped up and we lose focus. Our guys like Franks and Stevenson try to shoulder too much of the load and start doing their own things.

"We need to stick to the game plan and execute our system. We have the talent, we just need to take a systematic approach to each game."

The Colts will get another chance to show their mettle in a "big game" tonight against undefeated Hampton (6-0).

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