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No. 1 Xaverian flies under the radar

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Ryan Hall pointed at Tommy Jenkins, cracked a half smile and said, “This guy thinks he’s pretty good at pool.”

The Xaverian hockey senior captains have regularly incorporated pool into their team outings away from the rink. And, as a team, the Hawks spend a lot of time together. Head coach Dave Spinale thinks that time spent together has been no small part of the reason why his team has made appearances in each of the last three Super Eight tournaments.

Even if his players can’t agree on whom the best pool player is.

“I actually beat him,” Hall added.

He then paused, “Well, it was on a technicality.”

While the Hawks sort out who’s king of the billiards, they’ve unassumingly gone about building another Super Eight run.

Off to a 6-0-1 start, Xaverian ascended to the No. 1 spot in this week’s ESPN Boston Top 25 after Catholic Conference rival Malden Catholic suffered their first loss (by score) of the season.

Most of the Massachusetts hockey world’s attention has been focused on Xaverian’s Catholic Conference counterpart early in the season. Although their recent track record is impressive, few were predicting the Hawks would relive their success of past seasons, especially after the graduation of three-year starting goaltender Kyle MacDonald.

“I kinda like being the underdog in big games,” said Jenkins, a Catholic Conference all-star last year. “It takes the pressure off of you and there’s more pressure on the other team. We just go out and play our game.”

This year’s simply been an extension of what Spinale’s preached in his time at Xaverian.

“We’re going to play this game fast, that’s what we do,” Spinale said after a Hawks practice at the Foxboro Sports Center last week. “We don’t slow down for anybody, we don’t change what we do. We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve had guys who can play fast and play physical as well.”

Akin to the MacDonald-led teams, Xaverian’s solid play has built from the goaltender out.

Junior Dave Michaels, who was MacDonald’s backup last year, has logged a bulk of the minutes between the pipes and recently turned in a dazzling 34-save performance in a win over Catholic Memorial to kick off the Hawks’ Catholic Conference schedule. The Hawks have depth in net as well with senior Austin Miller in the fray.

“Kyle [MacDonald] was definitely somebody who you could build the team around,” Hall said. “He was a great leader in the locker room. But David Michaels has been doing an amazing job stepping into his place. He’s a quiet kid, but when he talks, everybody’s listens.”

Leadership in the room has largely been left to Jenkins, Hall and Xaverian’s seniors.

After all, the Hawks are still young. Spinale has 10 sophomores, led by talented second-year forward Jason Salvaggio, and a freshman who regularly see ice time. It’s a stark departure from last year’s when only one of those sophomores saw ice time alongside a deep, veteran core.

“It comes down to chemistry though,” Spinale said. “Our older players have always done a great job of working with the younger kids. They spend a lot of time together whether it’s at school, getting a bite to eat together before practice, or just hanging out.

“It’s a tight group and that translates to how they play together.”

Together, they’ve built something special to the point that it’s increasingly getting harder for the Hawks to fly under the radar.

“I think even when we got here, Xaverian wasn’t thought of as a hockey school,” Hall said. “I think that’s starting to change.”