1. What are your preseason Super 8 crossover round teams (last four teams), your winner and why?
Scott Barboza, ESPN Boston High Schools co-editor:
My top four would consist of Austin Prep, Catholic Memorial, Central Catholic and Malden Catholic.
I think after last year’s duel at the Garden, many observers across the state are penciling in a rematch between AP and MC, and with good reason. I felt last year the Cougars might be a year away from a finals appearance and/or hoisting the tournament’s hardware. I think with another year of seasoning under his belt in the crease, Elijah Harris is poised for a breakout season, which we had a glimpse of in last year’s first-round duel against city rival Reading.
Meanwhile, the Lancers are their usual selves. Look for Ara Nazarian to make another run at the Mr. Hockey award after becoming the first underclassman to win one last year. While MC is breaking in a new goaltender in junior Alex Reissis, the Lancers defense has some really nice building blocks with preseason All-State blue-liner Nick Rolli and the big and physical John McLean III.
Some – including myself here who might not have given the Knights enough credit in the preseason – might have looked at Catholic Memorial with a degree of uncertainty. After graduating their top two centers (Liam Coughlin and Jack O’Hear) and figuring in a prominent prep school defection, the Knights’ offensive cupboard looked a little bare. However, with a strong defensive corps, led by Frank Cosolito and Timmy Weinstein, CM will again be strong in its own end with All-State netminder Brandon Collett back between the pipes after a sensational Super 8 last year. And, of course, as with any of Bill Hanson’s teams, this group can really skat.
I’m torn between BC High and Central Catholic for the final spot in this group. I like BC High’s defensive depth, but I like Central just a little bit more as a complete team. The Raiders nearly upset St. John’s Prep in last year’s tournament behind a Herculean effort from All-State goaltender Colin Soucy. There’s plenty to like up front too from Central, as well, with Lloyd Hayes and Alex Lester both capable of putting together All-State-caliber seasons. You can never count out a Mike Jankowski team and I think, after some years of Super 8 heartache, the Raiders are ready to take it to the next level this year.
Mike Abelson, ESPN Boston High Schools correspondent:
Austin Prep, Malden Catholic, Cathedral, and Winchester.
The departure of Nolan Vesey may be the best thing that happened to Austin Prep. Yes he was talented, but the core of the Cougars were younger and are maturing as one. With so much talent back, including one of toughest defenses in the state, this team will have the best chance of knocking off MC at the end of the year.
That being said, until Malden Catholic loses in March, they’re in the driver's seat. The fact that Ara Nazarian hasn't left for prep school or juniors yet is huge. No one commands attention on the ice like Nazarian does, and he'll be the motor in the Lancers' engine this season. The biggest challenge for MC will be their schedule. Their "weakest" games are roads games at Franklin and Bishop Guertin. There is no off day for them between now and March. If they can make it through their first six games unscathed the statement will have been sent.
Recently, Cathedral has found different ways to come up bridesmaid at year's end. This year, the Panthers have the firepower to break through and show that Super 8 isn't exclusively for EMass. Peter Crinella seems like he's been dominating defenses forever and is just a junior. The Panthers defensively will lean on John Liquori in net, but I saw him last year when Cathedral beat Hingham at an overflowing Pilgrim Arena. He'll be fine.
As far as Winchester goes, James Offner is back between the pipes, and the offense still has Brendan Greene and Nolan Redler to work their magic on the scoreboard. The Middlesex League has six teams in ESPN Boston's initial Top 35 (I'm including the First 10 Out) and is loaded with talent. I'll even go so far to say that the Sachems earn one of the top-six spot in Super 8.
As far as a winner, I'll take Malden Catholic. Until they lose in March I'm not picking against them. Last year everyone wrote their obituary from the moment they snuck in as the 10-seed and the Lancers scorched through the tournament. My other three picks all have the talent and coaching to get it done, but I'm not picking against the Lancers.
John McGuirk, ESPN Boston High Schools correspondent:
My four picks are Malden Catholic, Springfield Cathedral, Catholic Memorial and BC High.
Malden Catholic has too much offensive firepower not to make a push at a fourth consecutive Super 8 crown. Led by Ara Nazarian, Tyler Sifferien and new goaltender Alex Reissis, the Lancers will certainly be well in the hunt. Like MC, Springfield Cathedral is loaded on the offensive side. Having got a taste of the Super 8 atmosphere a year ago, expect the Panthers to make a return. This club has way too much depth, albeit young, not to make a serious push for a championship. Peter Crinella and D.J. Petruzzelli lead the way, along with, lone senior John Liquori in net. Despite the loss of some solid contributors from a year ago, Catholic Memorial still has enough to make a case for itself led by Aaron Clancy. BC High may have lost goaltender Peter Cronin, but the Eagles should score enough goals where it doesn't matter who minds the net. Pat Kramer and Sam Topham will lead the way, as well as their strong defense.
Jeff Cox, ESPN Boston High Schools correspondent:
Austin Prep, Springfield Cathedral, Central Catholic and Malden Catholic have to be considered the top four choices to make it to the crossover round in 2014. Springfield Cathedral is dangerous with two solid goaltenders and some depth up front led by Holy Cross commit Peter Crinella, UMass commit Johnny Leonard and recent Quinnipiac commit D.J. Petruzzelli. Central Catholic is always well-coached by Mike Jankowski and has a solid senior goaltender in Colin Soucy. Malden Catholic should be solid, and has to be considered a contender, until proven otherwise.
Austin Prep is the team that will go all the way in 2014. The Cougars have arguably the best forward and best goaltender in the state. BU commit Bobo Carpenter will lead Louis Finnochiaro's team with a group of underrated underclassmen with Elijah Harris in between the pipes.
2. It’s never too early to look at the postseason awards, so who would be your three finalists for Mr. Hockey?
In no particular order, I’m looking at last year’s winner, Nazarian, along with Austin Prep’s Bobo Carpenter. I don’t think either of those names will surprise anyone, but let’s take a look at a few dark horses.
This could be a year a goaltender emerges to steal the show – and the top player award – and both Soucy and Harris are capable of doing so, if they play as they did in last year’s tournament. Among the forwards, Springfield’s Peter Crinella could put up monster numbers this year surrounded by a terrific supporting cast and let’s not discount Winchester’s Nolan Redler, BC High’s Pat Kramer and Marshfield’s Pat Shea (a recent Maine commit).
Ara Nazarian, Nolan Redler, and Colin Soucy. Nazarian is the dominant force, Redler brings the alfredo, and Soucy is the glue that holds a talented Central Catholic squad together.
Peter Crinella, Springfield Cathedral
Ara Nazarian, Malden Catholic
Pat Kramer, BC High
It's rare for awards such as Mr. Hockey to go to any one, but a senior, but the three best players in the state this year will be juniors. Bobo Carpenter of Austin Prep is the top choice to be Mr. Hockey, followed by Springfield Cathedral's Peter Crinella and Malden Catholic's Ara Nazarian.
3. Which of the new entrants in Division 1 who’ve had success in recent years has the best shot of making an immediate impact this year?
Franklin had a rough second period against No. 2 Malden Catholic on Friday night, but I came away with more positives than negatives from a tough effort from the Panthers. Devon Maloof will again be among the state’s top netminders and I never think Chris Spillane gets enough credit for the job he does year-in, year-out with the program.
Similarly, the Panthers’ foil in last year’s Division 2 state championship game Wilmington will again thrive with an All-State-grade netminder Drew Foley returning. Foley already has claimed a number of the Wildcats’ all-time goaltending records with a year remaining in his high school career – not mention, back-to-back state D2 titles (both over Franklin).
Of the newbies in Division 1, Franklin has the best chance to rock the boat. Next week, the Panthers play Malden Catholic, Lincoln-Sudbury, and La Salle of Rhode Island. Win a couple of those games and you put the whole state on notice. Add in Cathedral and Newburyport to the non-conference schedule as well as several quality Hock games (at Mansfield, vs. Oliver Ames, vs. Newburyport) and the Panthers have a chance to raise hell and make a statement.
Many of those teams lost key parts of their club to graduation, but Franklin has to be considered the top choice to make some noise in the Division I ranks. Senior goaltender Devon Maloof returns to lead the way Chris Spillane's troops. Newburyport might have the best record with the weakest schedule. Wilmington will have a tough go of it in the very challenging Middlesex League, but Steve Scanlon's teams always play hard.