Over the weekend, the Super Eight “Watch List” was compiled by the Massachusetts State Hockey Coaches Association. In what has proved to be a particularly wild year, 21 teams made the initial list for observation during the final two weeks of the season. The mere number of teams on the list is a testament to how truly even competition has been through the year.
Aside from our weekly Top 25 state hockey poll, we’re going to take a little time to break down the Watch List, making a case for each team and their chances at the big dance while ranking the likelihood they will be among the field in addition to couple of X-factors to their postseason success.
It goes without saying that there’s a lot of hockey left to be played, but here’s how we see them stacking up as of right now.
As always, feel free to sound off and leave a copy of your rankings in the comments section.
TOP OF THE HEAP
1. Malden Catholic (13-2-2)
Why they’re in: Wire-to-wire, the Lancers have been the state’s most consistent team, minus one hiccup against Hingham. The top line of Brendan Collier, Ryan Fitzgerald and Mike Vecchione is without parallel. Not only that, the Blue Blades have depth throughout. Simply stated, they’re the team to beat.
X-factor: So much has been written (we’re included) about the Lancers offense, but they have a defensive corps to boot led by Connor Evangelista and Colin MacGillivray, not to mention the very steady Pat Young in net.
2. Hingham (10-4-4)
Why they’re in: There’s been some turnover from last year’s Super Eight championship team, but the Harbormen still have some important cogs in the fold from that squad starting with their captains: winger Tim Driscoll and defenseman Alex Pompeo. They form the nucleus of a group that’s been there and done that, evidenced by some clutch late season wins, like last week’s comeback win against St. Mary’s of Lynn.
X-factor: Rangy junior winger Matt Hughes (6-foot-2) has exhibited a quick release and knack for finding the back of the net. The Harbormen have gone through stretches where they’ve struggled to score. If Hughes is on his game, Hingham will be all that much tougher to beat.
3. St. John’s Prep (10-5-1)
Why they’re in: The Eagles have assured themselves a second-place finish in the Catholic Conference with a 4-3-0 record thus far. Quite frankly, that should be a good enough resume to gain Super Eight entry in any season. In addition, Prep has Top 25 wins out of conference against Austin Prep, St. John’s (Shrewsbury), Springfield Cathedral and Woburn.
X-factor: The question entering the season was how far Harvard commit Colin Blackwell could lead the Eagles. But he hasn’t just had to do it alone. Freshman Shane Eiserman could soon follow Blackwell’s footsteps as a D-1 recruit. In net, Prep has it covered with junior David Letarte who’s underrated.
4. St. Mary’s of Lynn (12-3-3)
Why they’re in: The Spartans aced their Catholic Central schedule with a 7-0-3 record, out-scoring their opponents 37-12. It all starts from the goal out with netminder Donald Hesse sporting a sub-2.00 goals against average. Sophomore Bobby Mullins has stepped up to shoulder the offensive load and leads the squad with 12 goals.
X-factor: The Spartans don’t have too many marquee out-of-conference wins, but we’re looking past that in this panel’s consideration of their merits on the strength of their conference schedule which includes three Top 25 squads in Archbishop Williams, Arlington Catholic and Austin Prep. St. Mary’s pushed Malden Catholic on Monday before losing, 3-2, but the Spartans have a couple more high profile non-leaguers on the docket with Springfield Cathedral and Weymouth.
TOP EIGHT BUBBLE
5. BC High (9-4-3)
Why they’re in: First-year head coach and longtime Eagles assistant John Flaherty set a goal to get his team back into the postseason this season. Not only has BC High qualified for the state tournament, it very well looks like they’re Super Eight bound. The Eagles started Catholic Conference play 0-3-1, but were able to salvage two wins down the stretch. Their 3-3 tie against Malden Catholic seemed to be a springboard for the team to believe in itself.
X-factor: A big tip of the cap goes to the Eagles’ senior leadership in keeping the young squad together, led by captain Mike Cashman, and assistant captains Jack Buckley, Brendan O’Malley and Andrew White.
6. Weymouth (15-2-1)
Why they’re in: We expect that the Wildcats will put their finishing touches on Bay State Carey league title on Wednesday against Braintree despite a recent bump in the road with a loss to Needham. It’s hard to imagine Weymouth not being a shoo-in for the field of eight having been so dominant wire-to-wire. We could get a glimpse at how the Wildcats could play in the field with a string of late season tests against Catholic Memorial, Central Catholic and St. Mary’s in the next two weeks.
X-factor: It all comes down to defense in the postseason and with defensemen Andy Sheridan and goaltender Brian Brady, the Wildcats have senior leadership covered.
7. Woburn (12-3-1)
Why they’re in: The Tanners hold a slight 1-point lead over Winchester in the tight race to the Middlesex League crown. Their demonstrative 4-1 win over Reading on Saturday could go a long way toward punching their ticket. The Tanners control their own destiny with two more scheduled league games (Stoneham and Winchester) and, if they take care of business, they should be in.
X-factor: Woburn seems to be peaking at the right time and hasn’t lost since their first meeting against Reading on Jan. 8. Juniors Eddie Aprile and Bobby Smith played up for their latest big game against the Rockets last week.
HARD TO FIGURE
8. Catholic Memorial (7-7-1)
Why they’re in: Bar none, nobody plays a harder schedule in the MIAA than the Knights every year. They’re accustomed to playing Super Eight-caliber hockey every time out and they get everybody’s best. For a CM team, they’re young, but they’re also plenty talented with defenseman Marc Hetnik leading the way. Sophomore Liam Coughlin (8-8-16) has been a revelation.
X-factor: Quite frankly, whether or not they have enough points to get to the tournament. It’s not often you’re taking a serious look at a .500 club come this time of year, but it again speaks to the quality of schedule in the Catholic Conference as well as out-of-conference. So here’s the gauntlet, five points in five games and they’re in.
9a. Central Catholic (12-4-1)
Why they’re in: Less than a week ago, we had the Raiders ticketed for the top four of the eight-team field. After a lack-luster 1-1 tie against Billerica last Wednesday, Pandora’s Box opened. Now, as it stands as of publication time, the Raiders hold a 1-point lead over Billerica in the DCL/MVC with four games to play. The Indians also have four games to play. We’ll hedge that the winner of this pre-postseason mini tournament will have a chance at the Super Eight.
X-factor: Kyle Williams is that type of goaltender that can carry a team on a postseason run, but the Raiders can be dangerous if Tommy Evangelista and playmaker Nick Leonard are on point.
9b. Billerica (7-1-7)
Why they’re in: If the aforementioned Raiders tail off and the Indians can pull of the DCL/MVC title, that’s it. On the plus side, the Indians have lost only one game, a 3-2 loss to Burlington. On the negative side, they’ve also only won less than half of their games as well.
X-factor: Health. The Indians were down five players in their 1-1 tie against Central Catholic, but the job head coach Mike Mastrullo pulled mixing and matching lines was masterful, plus his team came to play. It’s that side of Billerica that makes you believe.
ON THE FRINGE (WORD ASSOCIATION ROUND)
11. Needham (10-5-3)
Why they’re in: Building steam.
X-factor: Experience, Super Eight that is.
12. Springfield Cathedral (11-7-0)
Why they’re in: Aren’t the Panthers always in?
X-factor: Zac Rondeau = game-changer.
13. Winchester (10-5-1)
Why they’re in: Surviving the Middlesex League.
X-factor: Ryan McGoff.
14. Xaverian (8-5-2)
Why they’re in: A Catholic Conference team on the outs?
X-factor: Dave Michaels.
BEST OF THE REST
15. Braintree (10-4-3)
16. Reading (12-4-1)
17. Arlington Catholic (8-3-6)
18. St. John’s Shrewsbury (10-6-1)
19. Barnstable (11-1-3)
20. Austin Prep (9-5-3)
21. Marshfield (10-2-4)