Top 5: The quest for the Super 8 title

December, 14, 2011
12/14/11
6:06
PM ET
With a good number of team's kicking off their hockey schedules on Wednesday night, we thought we'd take a closer look at our Top 5 preseason teams, handicapping the field of could-be Super 8 contenders this season:

(All records and stats from 2010-11)

1. Malden Catholic (21-1-2)
Players to watch: Brendan Collier, Sr. F, 24-39--63; Ryan Fitzgerald, Jr. F, 24-42-66; Mike Iovanna, Jr. F, 10-18--28; Tyler Sifferlen, So. F, 4-7--11; Brendan White, Jr. D, 2-7--9; Colin MacGillivray, Jr. D, 1-7--8.

Key losses: F Mike Vecchione, D Connor Evangelista, F Nick Roberto, G Pat Young.

The skinny: The returning Super 8 champions now have the bull's-eye on their backs, and they're OK with that. The Lancers finally finished the season on top, in no small part thanks to the leadership of Vecchione. Now the torch has been passed to Collier, who inherits the "C' this season. The Charlestown native and BU commit leads a re-tooled lineup. However, MC isn't without its questions. Top-line center Ryan Fitzgerald is on the shelf until around New Year's with a seperated shoulder. Catholic Conference All-Star Connor Evangelista is among the offseason defections and leaves a hole at the top of the Lancers' blue line corps. MC will also breaking in junior goaltender Connor Maloney after the graduation of Pat Young (1.33 GAA). On top of that, the Lancers have a new head coach in John McLean, who's filling in for Chris Serino, who's taken a medical leave. Still, for all those questions, there's still an awful lot of talent around with Iovanna figuring to make a big leap, playing the wing spot vacated by Vecchione. Freshman Ara Nazarian is a name that will be mentioned around the state for quite some time.

X-factor: White and MacGillivray. For all the attention paid to MC's front-line offensive talent, when you get down to the nitty-gritty of playoff time, teams need the horses on the blue line to take control of games. Both are more-than-capable defenders. Fitzgerald's younger sib, Casey, a freshman blue-liner is also a name to watch in the coming seasons.

2. St. John’s Prep (18-6-1)
Players to watch: Sam Kurker, Sr. F, 15-10--25; David Letarte, Sr. G, 2.52 GAA; Nick Pandalena, Sr. D, 2-10--12; Dillon Gargano, Jr. D, 1-1--2; Tyler Bird, So. F, 3-3--6.

Key losses: F Colin Blackwell, F Shane Eiserman, F John Farrow, D Joe Currie.

The skinny: Perhaps none of last year's Super 8 field lost more front-line talent than the Eagles. ESPN Boston Mr. Hockey Colin Blackwell matriculated to Harvard and is now tearing up the ECAC. Also, talented freshman Shane Eiserman left for the prep schools. What the Prep returns, however, could also be envy of most teams. It all starts up front with BU-commit Kurker, who's a true power forward in the old sense of the word; the Eagles will lean on Kurker to improve upon his 15-goal campaign last season. The Eagles also lost most of the blue line, with Nick Pandalena the only returner from their top 5. But the Prep is still built from the net out with Letarte returning between the pipes.

X-factor: Letarte. With a young defense in front of him and possible dip in scoring, it will take an even larger effort from the senior netminder to return Prep to a Super 8 title game.

3. BC High (15-6-3)
Players to watch: Matt Sullivan, Sr. F; Tom Besinger, So. F; Brian Furey, Sr. D; Peter Cronin, Jr. G.

Key losses: F Mike Cashman, F Terence Durkin, F Andrew White,

The skinny: Last year was about the Eagles' return to prominence. Now, this year is all about taking that next step. Still, the roster is young, but they're also battle-tested. "The guys we had last year were excellent leaders," BC High head coach John Flaherty said," now we're asking this group to build upon that moving forward, being leaders on and off the ice." That leadership now falls to Sullivan and Furey. Still, for a unit that's relatively young, there's some talent to be had, including Besinger who was among our Top 5 rookies to watch from last season.

X-factor: Cronin. The then-sophomore netminder turned some heads during the Super 8 tournament last season, as the Eagles went toe-to-toe with MC in the crossover round. If he can repeat that kind of performance, the Eagles are in good hands.

4. Catholic Memorial (8-10-2)
Players to watch: Liam Coughlin, Jr. F, 10-11--21; Jared Beckwith, Sr. D, 4-10--14; Shane Starrett, Jr. G, 1.77 GAA; Jack O'Hear, Jr. F.

Key losses: D Marc Hetnick, F Dan O'Hear, F Chris Stathopoulos, G Tommy Knox.

The skinny: By far the best team in the state not involved in the playoffs last season. With that said, the Knights were fairly green on the blue line last year and took their lumps. The hope is that they'll learn from those experiences. carrying into this season. CM figures to turn a weakness into a strength this year with a deep D corps led by Beckwith, in addition to returners Kevin Bletzer, Dennis Medeiros, Justin Ryder, Ryan Sullivan and John Allaire. The Knights also figure to be strong in net with Starrett after posting a .968 save percentage last year in nine games.

X-factor: Coughlin. An ESPN Boston All-Stater, bears watching in his second year with the Knights and could be the breakout performer of the year. He has the talent and size to change the complexion of game. If he applies himself physically, there's no defense in the state who can match him.

5. Woburn (18-5-2)
Players to watch: Casey Shea, Sr. F, 21-28--49; Danny Holland, Sr. F, 10-14--24; Jake Secatore, Sr. D, 1-12--13.

Key losses: F Alex Holland, D Brian Dulong, G Cam McGlashing, D Brian Smith.

The skinny: A year later, we still find ourselves wondering what could've been in the Super 8 tournament -- had the Tanners gotten a couple of bounces here and there. But, as Woburn head coach Jim Duran told us at the time, "Teams make their own luck in hockey." This year, the Tanners hope the luck breaks their way because they don't lack on talent. UMass-Lowell commit Casey Shea will be perhaps the most dynamic offensive threat in the state (save for the top-liners at MC), and Holland isn't far behind. This group can skate and make plays in tight spaces. In a word, they're fun to watch. The Tanners also return one of the steadiest D-men in the state in Secatore.

X-factor: Sophomore goaltender Jeremy Flibotte. He's tabbed to be McGlashing's replacement in net and saw time sparingly during last season. Can the netminder hold up to the rigors of postseason play? We'll find out.

Scott Barboza

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
Scott Barboza joined ESPNBoston.com as a high schools editor/reporter in May 2010. He spent the previous three seasons working in the New England Patriots media relations department after a stint at the Taunton Daily Gazette, where he covered everything from Little League baseball to the Boston Red Sox.

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