North Xtra: Former assistant in charge at Butler

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When Mike Guentner took over the head coaching duties of the Butler Area High School varsity hockey team midway through the 2011-12 season, the Golden Tornado was in the midst of a 1-21 season.

Now, more than two years later, Guentner has left the program in much better shape, as his former teammate and assistant coach, Patrick Hammonds, takes over what was one of the better teams in PIHL Class AAA last season.

"I think there was a lack of structure before Mike and I arrived," said Hammonds, a 2003 Butler graduate who has been an assistant with the Golden Tornado the past two seasons. "When you're a district as large as ours, and you don't have the wins, people wonder what's going on and it's usually a lack of structure.

"But that's significantly improved. Looking at us now, we have the right people in place and we've had success."

In Guentner's first season, the Tornado improved its league record to 10-12 -- its best season since 2003-04 -- and qualified for the league playoffs.

Butler was even better this past season, going 13-7 in the regular season and grabbing the No. 3 seed in the PIHL Class AAA Penguins Cup playoffs. Butler lost in the Penguins Cup quarterfinals to Pine-Richland.

Shortly after the season ended, Guentner, a 2005 Butler graduate, left to take a job with the Pittsburgh Vengeance, the area's only North American 3 Hockey League Tier III Junior A team.

The move didn't surprise Hammonds.

"I wasn't surprised because he has goals and desires and he practices what he preaches," Hammonds said. "For Mike to continue to develop as a coach, he needs to coach at the next level."

Development has been the backbone of Guentner, Hammonds and the Butler staff's coaching philosophy. While the staff wants the Tornado to win, what it really is hoping to do is help its players reach the level of hockey they aspire to reach.

"Our main focus is to develop players to play at the next level of hockey," Hammonds said. "Everyone wants to win; we go about it differently. That's why we're always going to camps at the junior level and bringing in experts to teach the kids."

It paid off for Troy Double, who as a senior this past season led the Tornado with 34 points. He was extended an offer by the Vengeance after the season.

Hammonds said he plans to continue to build upon the foundation left by Guentner.

And the community believes in the plan in place.

"You have to be a structured and well-run organization to get all the kids in the area to play," Hammonds said. "Kids can find a lot of other places to play, whether it be AAA or AA travel teams.

"And right now, every eligible varsity player in the area is playing for us. That's a first here going back as long as I can remember. It's a true testament to where this program is."

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