West/South Xtra: Senior playing key role for Char Valley hockey team

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Seniors Anthony Franks and Cullen McMahon get most of the attention on Chartiers Valley's hockey team after finishing first and second, respectively, in points in Class AA last season and finding themselves near the top of leaderboard again this season.

But it's the Colts' top defenseman, senior Tyler Stevenson, to whom the team looks for leadership.

"He's the heart and soul of our team," Chartiers Valley coach Sean Biancanello said. "He wears the 'C' on his chest and commands respect.

"He's a vocal leader and everything about him speaks leadership. He was a natural fit as our captain."

It's a role Stevenson takes seriously.

"I feel like I have to lead by example," Stevenson said. "Be a role model for the younger players and pick guys up when they're down."

That was the case recently when the Colts (10-9) found themselves trailing Hampton, 6-2, heading into the third period. The Colts had won five games in a row before allowing seven unanswered goals in the third period to lose to Erie Cathedral Prep, 8-2, on Jan. 23.

Then the Talbots dominated the first 34 minutes of play four days later, and Stevenson had seen enough. With Franks and McMahon by his side, Stevenson tried to motivate his team during the break against the Talbots.

"I just told them I was sick of losing," Stevenson said. "We needed to get our stuff together and change the game. I looked everyone in the eye and we all knew what we had to do."

The Colts responded superbly, scoring five goals in the first 12 minutes of the third period to pull out a 7-6 victory.

"It was by far the best 17 minutes we played," Biancanello said.

Stevenson also contributed on the ice with two of the five third-period goals, both coming on the power play. Stevenson entered the week tied for 10th among all players in Class AA in power play goals (five) and leads all defensemen in Class AA with 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists).

But he's hardly just an offensive defenseman. A 5-foot-9, 185-pounder, he plays physically, which is critical on the blue line for the Colts.

"I haven't seen any defense-man in our league as good as he is," Biancanello said. "He's the quarterback of our power play. Everything goes through him because he has such great vision and makes smart plays.

"But he's also very good defensively. The kid dominates the front of the net. Other teams don't want to put their guys in there and a lot of times they won't even send their kids to his side of the ice because they know they'll get hit."

Biancanello credits a lot of Stevenson's strong play to his work ethic and having grown up around the game.

Stevenson got a relatively late start on hockey, not playing until seven years ago. His father, Craig Stevenson, who is now an assistant coach for the Colts, played at Chartiers Valley and taught Tyler how to skate at a young age.

But Tyler didn't take to hockey at first.

"I started skating early, but I didn't like hockey at first," Stevenson said. "Luckily, we tried it again later and I fell in love with it."

Stevenson has been a four-year starter for the Colts, getting to play the previous three seasons with his cousin, goaltender Noah Stevenson, and this season with his younger brother, Alex Stevenson.

Now Tyler and Alex will try to get what their father already has -- a state championship.

Craig Stevenson was part of the 1986 Colts state championship team. Tyler Stevenson has heard his father talk about the experience numerous times, and after losing in the PIHL Class AA Penguins Cup semifinals in each of his previous three seasons, Stevenson is determined to get over the hump in his final season.

"[My father] knows what it takes to win and I've heard him and others talk about how great the experience is," Tyler Stevenson said. "It's a bunch of brothers coming together and doing something special."

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