By Matt Popchock
While the Erie Cathedral Prep football team has begun its quest to avenge last year's loss in the District 10 Class AAA Final, the hockey program has begun open tryouts at all levels as the varsity squad looks to atone for its own championship game defeat. However, they'll have to make it back with new leadership on the ice and behind the bench.
Jeff Tebaldi voluntarily gave up his head coaching post over the summer, and Jeff Cross has stepped in as the new boss of the Ramblers for the 2012-13 PIHL season. Cross inherits a team that, while it still has ingredients for success, will have to adapt to the loss by graduation of ten seniors.
If the PIHL gave an equivalent of the Jack Adams Award (the NHL trophy annually bestowed upon the coach of the year), Tebaldi would have been a prime candidate of mine this past season. Not long ago, ECP went winless in PIHL play and even took a year off, but under Tebaldi's watch, the program methodically grew, culminating in last year's 15-5-1 regular-season finish.
Tebaldi's Ramblers followed that up with impressive wins over Latrobe and Chartiers Valley to earn Cathedral Prep's first Penguins Cup Final appearance since 2000, and first as a member of Class AA since '99.
Returning from that team is All-Star scoring leader Jimmy Bufalino, who led ECP with 29 goals as a junior and registered 43 points, good enough for the Class AA top ten in both categories. His playoff experience, as demonstrated above, may prove invaluable.
Fortunately for the Ramblers, Bufalino will be joined by such young forwards as Mitch Campbell and Trevor Faulkner who have shown plenty of early promise, but new coach Cross must wave goodbye to captain and '11-'12 point leader Chris Coombs, as well as top defenseman Peter Zaphiris, and starting goalie Trey Brown.
In the meantime, as long as we're talking coach of the year, we might as well also submit Tim Veach, whose West Allegheny Indians beat Tebaldi's feisty boys for the Penguins Cup in sudden-victory overtime.
Veach is worth mentioning because his club has to endure major roster turnover of its own entering '12-'13, so there is a realistic chance that, for the third year in a row, we might see two entirely new Class AA finalists skating at CONSOL Energy Center in March. For the Ramblers to at least have a shot at rewriting the screenplay, they'll need to count on Bufalino continuing to get help--maybe even in larger doses--for their goaltenders to continue maturing, and for Cross to establish the same chemistry with his established talent that Tebaldi enjoyed.
(Special thanks to Rubino Productions and the PIHL Network for their contributions to this post.)
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)
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