JACKSON TWP — Penguins Cup or bust?
Such a feeling has suddenly become prevalent among Seneca Valley High School hockey players and coaches.
And why not?
The Raiders are off to a 6-2-1 start, most recently suffering a 2-1 overtime loss to section rival North Allegheny last week when the Tigers scored on a 5-on-3 power play in the extra session.
No matter. These Raiders are for real.
“Our sights are on the Penguins Cup and they should be,” first-year varsity coach Anthony Raco said. “A previously young team has matured a bit and we’re receiving significant contributions from players who weren’t on the varsity last year.”
Among the newcomers are junior goaltender Tanner Pfeffer — who has stopped 162 of 178 shots for a .910 save percentage — and junior center Ethan Kippin, the team’s leading scorer with 15 points.
Raco said some players on the team looked around the school for kids playing amateur hockey who weren’t playing on the Raiders’ team.
Pfeffer was one of the players they found.
“He’s a difference-maker,” Raco said.
Kippin has six goals and nine assists.
“I played junior varsity my freshman year, then opted not to play last year to devote full attention to my Class AAA Junior Penguins team. I didn’t want to have to miss any practices for high school games.”
The Seneca Valley varsity struggled to a 3-19 record last season. The year before, SV finished 3-16-1.
The two seasons prior to that, the Raiders played in back-to-back Penguins Cup championship games.
“It was tough to watch last year ... I felt bad that I wasn’t there to help,” Kippin said of his high school team. “Now we’re trying to get Seneca Valley hockey back to where it should be.”
Senior forward Luke Reed plays on Kippin’s line and leads the team with eight goals. He scored 10 goals for the Raiders last year.
Reed almost decided not to return to the Raiders this season.
“I play Triple-A amateur hockey and wanted to invest more time there,” Reed said. “I wasn’t planning on playing for the varsity this time around.”
North Allegheny coach Jimmy Black has coached Reed in amateur hockey. Reed said his father — who knows Black well — talked to the NA coach about the situation.
“Coach Black told me that missing my senior high school season would be a big mistake,” Reed said. “He convinced me to come back. It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
“Playing on a line with Ethan Kippin has been fantastic. He’s far and away the best player on our team. He helps out in the defensive end, can take off with the puck and make plays.”
Spencer Schutte, who played junior varsity last year, is also on the Raiders’ top line. He has nine assists and 11 points. Chris Marziotto has eight goals playing on the second line.
Andrew Gagnon, a 10-goal scorer last year, is another offensive threat. He is just now returning from a shoulder separation.
“A number of these guys will improve as they get more varsity ice time during the year,” Raco said. “I keep one varsity roster spot open each game to move up someone from the JV team, just to get more guys a taste of varsity action.”
SV junior varsity coach Trevor Kuhlman is a 2003 Seneca Valley graduate and a former hockey player there. He has been in the Raiders’ coaching system for five years.
The junior varsity team is off to an 8-1 start.
“All of our coaching staffs are in constant communication with each other,” Kuhlman said. “Anthony is developing a system here that should sustain varsity success.
“Start off fast, you jell quicker. That’s helped both the varsity and JV teams.”
Kuhlman said intense practice sessions are helping as well.