The line shift couldn't have gone much smoother.

The Desert Vista club hockey program, formed in 1999, had its first coaching change as Dean Argeros and his staff took over for Steve McGinn, and his crew, this season.

"We were all familiar with each other and it has gone well," Argeros said. "Maybe even better than expected. We have a winning record (at the 5A level) and we are in second place. All levels are playing well and it's been good."

The varsity squad has four games left before the postseason begins with a 9-4-3 record. All teams make the postseason, but if the Thunder can maintain second place then a first-round bye puts them in the quarterfinals and has them that much closer to the championship round.

It would be nothing new for the program if the Thunder can advance that far in the coming weeks. Desert Vista became the first program to win back-to-back championships in 2004 and 2005. The Thunder also reached the championship game in 2006 and 2007 and made it to the semifinals two other seasons.

This year's team has played well behind seven seniors, seven juniors and a sophomore to keep the Thunder's strong tradition alive.

"They are all contributors and we ask them to do so many things on and off of the ice," said Argeros, who volunteers his time and is senior salesman for Arrows Electronics. "Yes, we are a hockey team and we love to compete, but this is also about developing young men and we have instituted some programs that hopefully ensure that."

In addition to adopting Desert Vista families for Christmas, the new coaching staff instituted a rule that if a player is going to miss a practice, workout or game that the player has to be the one to inform the staff, not a parent.

"It's something they need to learn, take responsibility for all of their actions and consequences," he said. "It makes it more difficult to do it when you are the one directly talking to the coach."

It has given the team a self of responsibility to each other and it comes through on the ice.

"We are all on the same page, right through all of the levels, because the expectations and rules are across the board," Argeros said. "It is up to the kids to live up to it and everyone buys into it."

The program has three different teams. The Arizona High School Hockey Association dictates that the top team - 5A - must be compromised of all Desert Vista students. The lower levels (3A and JV) can include players from other schools as some of the players are from Horizon Honors and Mountain Pointe.

Argeros coaches the top level after several years of guiding teams at the squirt, pee wee and bantam levels.

The coach cites the preseason skates, the dry land program at Athletic Republic and a plyometric workout as reasons the team has continued to compete at a high level.

The roster is led by senior captain Vinny Branciforte, a forward, and assistants junior forward Taylor Lang, junior forward Cody Larkin and senior forward Will Argeros.

"Vinny is a great leader and he is an extension of the coaching staff," the coach said. "His backing of the coaching staff trickles down through the entire team. He has played with most of the players in the past and he has their respect.

"Those guys are the key to the team and have done a great job."

The team, which is sponsored by Amanda Goe, has fared well other than facing Scottsdale Notre Dame, but appear to be closing the gap on the No. 1 team in the state.

"Our plus-minus is only plus five but that's because of our three games against Notre Dame," he said. "We are a minus-24 against them, but in the last game we tied them so we are getting there. We've gone over different game plans and hopefully we will be ready the next time we face them."

The Thunder might get two more shots at it as the regular season closes at home (Chandler Polar Ice) against Notre Dame and if the standings hold true they'll enter the postseason as the top two seeds.

"That first-round bye if we got it would be great," Argeros said. "Our best hockey is still out there to reach and hopefully we will peek at the right time."

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