“Mr. High School Sports” – Chartiers Valley Hockey Keeps It In The Family
By Matt Popchock
Boasting 50-goal scorer and PIHL Class AA scoring champ Justin Sabilla, Chartiers Valley has come oh-so-close to winning its first Penguins Cup in over a quarter-century. If the next class of Colts clear that hurdle anytime soon, the name of the man now leading them might ring a bell.
Head hockey coach Lou Biancaniello has voluntarily left his position, citing a desire to focus more on his duties as head coach of the Division I program at Washington & Jefferson College. His cousin and assistant, Sean Biancaniello, was recently introduced as the new varsity bench boss, and his uncle, Steve Biancaniello, will assist Sean.
Sean Biancaniello, who played his PIHL hockey at Gateway, where Lou once coached, has been working as a middle school math teacher at Chartiers Valley. Sean also played at W & J, which competes in the ACHA (American Collegiate Hockey Association) with such teams as Pitt, IUP, and Youngstown State in the CHMA (College Hockey Mid-America) conference.
After serving as an assistant at Upper St. Clair, Lou Biancanello really turned the Char’ Valley program around. Before his debut the Colts won just three games as a Class AA member in 2007-08, but in four seasons, he led them to three straight playoff berths, and they improved their win total each time. With Sabilla as the focal point of Biancaniello’s offense, the Colts reached back-to-back Penguins Cup Semifinals 2011-12, the first time the program did so since 1985-86.
In addition, Lou Biancaniello has served on the coaching staff of Team Pittsburgh, the host team in the annual America’s Showcase tournament for the past few years, and Team Pittsburgh reached the championship game this year. To get there Team Pittsburgh scored an upset in the semifinals against highly skilled Team Illinois–a group ironically consisting of several young men he recruited.
Lou hopes to remain in that role, and he has privately expressed optimism about the future of Chartiers Valley hockey. Loyalties aside, I can see his point.
Losing Sabilla and another former PIHL Player of the Month, defenseman Jake Gudewicz, will be harsh, to say nothing of the four other outgoing seniors. But the Colts still have a lot coming back, including forwards Cullen McMahon and Anthony Franks, and starting goalie Noah Stevenson will be a year wiser.
Furthermore, the Colts have hired another journeyman PIHL coach, Bob Kennedy, to head up their JV squad. Varsity newcomers will learn a lot from Kennedy, one of the most successful coaches in local and state history, who won back-to-back Penguins Cups at Pine-Richland 2007-08 amidst tours of duty with Bethel Park, Upper St. Clair, and Pittsburgh Central Catholic.
Some short-term growing pains may persist in 2012-13, but in the long run, Chartiers Valley should still contend.
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)