The Hempfield hockey team's playoff run didn't end the way it wanted, but overall, the Spartans season was deemed a success.
After winning a combined six games the past two seasons in Class AAA, Hempfield dropped to the Open Class this season and won 19 of its 23 games, ending the season with a 5-1 loss to Baldwin in the Northeast Conference final.
"The season definitely didn't end like we wanted with the loss to Baldwin," Hempfield coach Denny Zeravica said. "We just didn't play as well as we could have.
"But as a whole, the season was a success. The players were really dedicated. It started before the season at dry land workouts and continued throughout the year."
The team's lack of success the previous two seasons led Hempfield to try its hand at the Open Class level this season. Zeravica said he would have rather played at the highest level of competition, since many of Hempfield's games ended up not being close (13 of the team's wins were by five goals or more).
"I always want to play against the best competition, so I loved to play in AAA," Zeravica said. "We played some AAA teams in the preseason and did pretty well. Some of the games [in the Open Class], we just outmatched the other teams and weren't as fun as close games.
"But we were put in the Open Class and we did what we had to do and played very well."
Currently, the PIHL classification system is based on enrollment. Hempfield's enrollment dictates that it must be in Class AAA, and if it doesn't want to play in that league, drop to the Open Class.
However, Zeravica said a recent proposal could change the classification system. Zeravica said a formula based on not only enrollment, but also other factors such as past performance, would dictate the class in which a team competes and this new system would have put Hempfield in Class AA.
"I think it's better for the game," he said. "The Open Class needs to be for building teams or teams that have too much turnover from the prior season.
"So I don't know where they'll put us next season, but wherever it is, we'll take the same approach -- a lot of work before the season starts and carry that over to the season."
Hempfield will have to replace a number of key contributors next season.
Anthony Ciocca, Avery Lavella and Mike Donofrio were three of the team's top four scorers this season, combining for 87 goals and 160 points in the team's 24 games this season.
The Spartans will look to Conor Cortazzo (19 goals, 30 assists) and Jake Barus (15 goals, 23 assists) to lead the offense next season.
Meanwhile on defense, only Connor Monzo will return.
But Hempfield will also return its talented goaltender, Garrett Ciaramella. The sophomore went 17-4 with four shutouts, stopped 419 of 461 shots and had a goals-against average under 2.00. He was also voted the team's Badger Bob Johnson Character Award winner.
"I hate thinking about the guys we're losing," Zeravica said. "It's not just the points they put, but their leadership and the atmosphere they created around the team that was crucial.
"But the younger guys got a lot of experience this season and will know what to expect next season. It'll be their job to pick up where the seniors left off and continue our success."