North Xtra: Seneca Valley continues to improve on the ice

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After going from a combined five wins in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons to 14 wins last season, and then winning the St. Margaret's Foundation Fall Face-off preseason tournament in October, expectations were sky high for Seneca Valley's hockey team this season.

And while there have been some bumps in the road early on, the Raiders are right in the thick of things in Class AAA.

Seneca Valley (5-3) defeated Pine-Richland, 4-3, Tuesday night and is one of three teams tied for third overall in the entire classification with 10 points. The Raiders played their best game of the season last week in an 8-1 rout of a quality Upper St. Clair team.

"So far, we really hadn't played our best hockey until the Upper St. Clair game," senior Chris Marziotto said. "Winning the St. Margaret's tournament, we had a little cockiness and the reality is, we have to play our best every night to win. It took awhile for us to do that."

Marziotto has been the catalyst for the Raiders. A PIHL all-star and two-time captain, Marziotto is among the league leaders in points with 21 (seven goals, 14 assists).

But it's his character that's most impressive.

"He wants to see the team be successful," Raiders coach Anthony Raco said. "He doesn't care about where on the point sheet he is. I know a lot of kids want the goals, but it's good to see him racking up the assists.

"He has the skill set of a captain. He displays great character, has a great locker room presence and the other players look to him when decisions need to be made."

Marziotto is already closing in on his career-high of 24 points, which he set last season. He has excelled recently on special teams, where he had two power-play goals and two short-handed goals in his last two games prior to this week.

But most of his points this season have come at even strength with his linemates, sophomore Alex Crilley and senior Spencer Schutte.

"It's a whole new line," Raco said. "We played around with it at St. Margaret's and they've played very well. They get great puck movement and have an understanding of what each other is doing."

In addition to Marziotto, Crilley and Schutte, three other Raiders, Brendan Macfarlane, Peter Kipin and Andrew Gagnon, have scored at least six points this season.

That depth is a big reason why only three teams in Class AAA have averaged more goals this season than the Raiders entering the week.

With that production offensively, and an all-star goaltender in senior Tanner Pfeffer, it's easy to see why expectations are high for the Raiders.

The one major problem for the Raiders this season has been keeping their focus between the second and third periods, when the teams take an intermission as the ice is smoothed.

In the Raiders' opener against Butler, they took a 3-1 lead into the final period only to give up three goals to lose 4-3. Then on Nov. 27 against Canon-McMillan, Seneca Valley led, 4-1, after two periods but lost, 5-4.

If it weren't for those two losses, the Raiders would be right there with Peters Township for the league lead in points. Marziotto said that being able to maintain focus through all three periods is essential for Seneca Valley if it wants to live up to its expectations.

"The key for us is just not giving up," Marziotto said. "When we put goals up in the first and second periods, we just have to keep the right mind in between periods."

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