Flanked by a swarm of reporters, Sean Murphy’s eyes darted about as he searched for the words to say. The Burlington senior forward was never the center of attention during his high school career, so he didn’t have much experience in such a setting. He scored two goals at the TD Garden last week as the Red Devils’ repeated as Division 1 state champions. It was his first time playing at the Garden, having watched last year’s final unfold from the perspective of a fan. This was the first year Murphy made Burlington’s varsity hockey squad.
As Murphy responded to questions, teammates and members of the Red Devils’ coaching staff ribbed him. Their good-natured jabs caused Murphy periodically to break down and smile while he tried to maintain focus on the interview. They all knew the circumstances surrounding Murphy’s accomplishment. He’d done from off the team outright to hero.
During freshman year, Burlington didn’t host a freshman team. Murphy failed to make the junior varsity squad, so he went a year without playing for his high school. In sophomore year, Murphy earned a spot on the J.V. team, but it was the Red Devils’ lower team (the J.V. had been split into two teams). The next year, he moved up to the higher J.V. team, as many of his classmates won their first state crown. Finally, as a senior, Murphy made the varsity team.
He only scored one goal during the regular season, but Murphy broke out in the tournament, scoring five goals in the postseason, including two in the championship game.
When Murphy attracted the attention in the postgame following the Red Devils’ 4-2 victory over Marshfield on Sunday, Burlington head coach Bob Conceison watched a few paces away. He beamed and was eager to tell of Murphy’s story of stick-to-itiveness.
“That’s the kind of story that makes high school hockey great,” Conceison said.
A SORT OF CHANGING OF THE GUARD
As Malden Catholic won its third straight Super 8 championship, it would seem as though the Lancers simply picked up where they left off. But anybody who watched the defending champions’ season unfold would tell you this most recent run was anything but a sure thing.
In many years, this year’s MC model was uncharacteristic from the previous. Yes, the Lancers still had more top-end talent than anyone, with three Division 1 college recruits (and counting). But this was in broad strokes a young team and, more so, one that lacked experience in a Super 8 environment. Building on the contributions of talented senior leaders (Mike Vecchione in 2011 and Brendan Collier in ’12) in the last two years, the Lancers had to learn to do it on their own this year.
Helping to bridge the gap was senior captain Mike Iovanna, one of a handful of seniors on MC’s roster this year. Iovanna is self-described as someone who leads by example. The soft-spoken UMass commit has been a key cog in the Lancers’ run all along, but took on a greater role this year, inheriting the “C” on his sweater.
“You know what the expectations are,” Iovanna said of taking on the role of captain. “Knowing what Mike [Vecchione] and Brendan [Collier] meant in the room, I was able to learn from them.
“But I also know that I’m a different person from them. I’m a pretty quiet guy, but I knew I could set an example for the younger players as they had done for me.”
Iovanna combined with junior left wing Tyler Sifferlen and sophomore center Ara Nazarian to tally nearly half (113) of MC’s points on the season (245) on its top line. Aside from creating the Lancers’ scoring punch, Iovanna also contributed intangibles on MC’s top penalty killing forward unit beside Nazarian — who changed the face of the tournament with his four short-handed goals.
But aside from the first line, the Lancers relied on a new wave for contributions.
“They have their own identity, but it’s a new core,” Lancers head coach John McLean said. “It’s young, very talented players, with [Austin] Goldstein, [Matt] Filipe, [Jake] Witkowski and [Will] Lawrence on D, I thought John [McLean III] played well.”
Nothing was handed to this MC group; it was earned. Sitting a 5-6-3 as the calendar was about to flip to February, the Lancers had to learn on the fly.
“Right around Central Catholic, that was a big win for us and the kid’s became a team,” McLean said. “We went out to Springfield and, for whatever reason, Springfield always worked for us. We went on a roll.
Of course, none of that reflects the emotional component that followed MC hockey this year. Former head coach and athletic director Chris Serino succumbed after a long fight with cancer shortly before the season began.
His imprint remained in MC’s three-peat.
“It’s still Chris’s team a little bit,” McLean said.
COMINGS AND GOINGS
Here’s a look at some recent updates in where some of the state’s top players are headed next year:
One of our favorite players to watch during the last couple of years was Burlington forward C.J. Grinnell. Grinnell led the Red Devils again in scoring (13-19-32) and is considering prep and junior options for next year, with Connecticut’s Canterbury School as a leading candidate. Just a thought that some college coach out there is going to get one heck of a player in a couple years.
Springfield Cathedral wasn’t able to get over the MC hump in the Super 8, but will more than likely have several of its graduating players skating on past this year. First-line winger Dominic Blad is heading to South Kent while defenseman Matt Foley is weighing options between Phillips Exeter, Choate Rosemary Hall and Berkshire School, along with college choices for the following year. All-State-caliber defenseman Jack Williams and center Artie Potter are also exploring options for next year.
The Woburn girls’ hockey program had perhaps the greatest collection of talent in the state this year. Case and point were made last week as two of the Tanners’ top skaters announced their college plans. Forward Kayla Smith gave her commitment to Salve Regina while defenseman Cassandra Connolly will be headed to the University of New England.
MR. AND MISS HOCKEY AWARD FINALISTS
We’ll be handing out our awards Monday when we name our Mr. and Miss Hockey Award winners, as the best players in MIAA hockey this year. Here’s a look at our four finalists for the honors, in alphabetical order:
Liam Coughlin, Sr. C, Catholic Memorial: The rangy pivot helped lift the Knights to the Super 8 semifinals, leading the team with 28 goals and 20 assists for 48 points.
Peter Cronin, Sr., G BC High: Undoubtedly, the state’s best goaltender for two years running. The three-year starter posted a 94.6 save percentage along with seven shutouts this year.
Ara Nazarian, Soph. C, Malden Catholic: Led the Lancers in scoring (26-20-46) during the regular season in addition to leading all players in Super 8 scoring, while tallying an unheard of four short-handed goals for the three-time defending champions.
Brian Pinho, Sr. C, St. John’s Prep: A natural playmaker with vision, the Providence College commit led the Catholic Conference champions with 12-24-36 totals.
Alison Butler, Sr. F, St. Mary’s (Lynn): Among the leading scorers in the state (37-25-62), Butler saved her best for last, netting the game-winning goal in the state championship game.
Hannah Murphy, Sr. F, Duxbury: The Dragons captain capped her prolific career with the program’s third straight state championship win, scoring 29 goals and adding 24 assists.
Shannon O’Neil, Sr. G, Austin Prep: Led all Division 1 starting goaltenders with a 1.08 GAA and eye-popping 96.8 save percentage to go along with 10 shutouts.
Kayla Smith, Sr. F, Woburn: Perhaps the most feared scorer in the state, Smith finished with 34-29-64 totals for the Tanners.