No. 1 Malden Catholic has a line for the ages

MALDEN, Mass. – Step inside a Malden Catholic hockey practice and you’ll see its top line of Brendan Collier, Ryan Fitzgerald and Mike Vecchione put on a show. Their talent is evident, but it’s the work they put in which makes the trio special in the eyes of head coach Chris Serino.

“Our team practices and works hard because our three best players are our three hardest workers,” Serino said. “They set the bar for everybody else. You can’t watch those three guys in practice and not try to meet their level of effort.”

Not only are they prodigious workers, they make it look natural.

During a recent practice at the Valley Forum, the Lancers’ top line skated through drills, adding a dash of flair to everything they did. Vecchione, a senior captain, dragged the puck through his legs and finished with a top-shelf wrister. During a 3-on-2 drill, the forwards blazed up the ice with a series of precision passes before Collier unleashed a wicked one-timer that found the back of the net.

Their collective talent is no small reason why Malden Catholic (2-0-0) earned our No. 1 preseason ranking along with those of other media outlets in the area.

Their talent has also earned each of the players plenty of attention from the college ranks. Vecchione has signed his letter to play at the University of New Hampshire, while Fitzgerald is already committed to Boston College as a sophomore. Collier, a junior, has many suitors with BU, Harvard, Merrimack, PC and UNH in the fray.

Last year, the troika combined to score 61 of MC’s 109 goals.

“I don’t know what it is, but we always manage to find each other,” said Vecchione, a Saugus resident who is one of two MIAA hockey players (along with St. John’s Prep’s Colin Blackwell) to be listed on the NHL’s Central Scouting early season report. “We’re unselfish with our games. That’s a big thing for us, we’re always looking for each other.”

Those tendencies have benefitted each of their linemate’s play.

They’re also pushed by MC’s deep and talented supporting cast.

“We have tremendous depth, you could see that on Saturday,” Collier said, referencing the Lancers’ 3-0 win over New Jersey powerhouse Delbarton. “It wasn’t just the top line, it was the second and the third lines, and the defense, too. Everyone does their job, that’s the key.”

That Delbarton game could be viewed as a vital stepping stone if MC is to finish off a Super 8 run this season. Fitzgerald, a center, admitted to being a little nervous before the puck dropped, knowing well what the Lancers were about to face.

“But then you realize that they put their skates on the same way that you do.” said Fitzgerald, who is the son of 17-year NHL player and former Austin Prep star Tom Fitzgerald. “Then, we relaxed and we started to play our game.

“I’m not going to lie, that was huge for us. It’s early in the season, but I think we have just that much more confidence that we can play with the best in Massachusetts and come away with a championship.”

Still, the “Blueblades” realize there’s a lot of work ahead of them if they hope to finish with a Super 8 championship. MC has come close in recent years, but hasn’t been able to close.

The Lancers were a combined 9-0 in bracket play in the Super 8 during the last three seasons, but have failed to claim the title.

“It would be great to finish off my senior year with a state championship,” Vecchione said. “I think with these guys [pointing to his linemates], we can definitely do that.

“But we talked about it in the beginning of the year, this team’s done nothing together. What we did last year is last year. We still have to compete every game and work hard, or else we’re not going to do anything.”