With Monday marking the beginning of MIAA hockey practices across the state, it's as good a time as any to take an initial stab at projecting this year's Super 8 tournament field. So here goes nothing, kicking off the #RoadToTheGarden:
(By the way, look for our full preseason boys' and girls' Top 25 polls, along with All-State teams, starting next Monday.)
1. Austin Prep
Last year’s record: 16-2-6
Last year’s final ranking: 3
Key returners: F Bobo Carpenter, D Andrew Cross, G Elijah Harris, D J.J. Layton, F Eric MacAdams.
Why they’re here: Feeling was that the Cougars were about a year away from contending heading into last season and, low and behold, AP was just a goal or two away from capturing last year’s Super 8 title at the Garden. A young and talented nucleus returns largely intact this season, so the expectation is even higher. The goal will be to interrupt Malden Catholic’s designs on a four-peat.
2. Malden Catholic
Last year’s record: 16-6-3
Last year’s final ranking: 1
Key returners: F Matt Filipe, F Austin Goldstein, D John McLean, F Ara Nazarian, D Nick Rolli, F Tyler Sifferlen, F Jake Witkowski.
Why they’re here: As a three-time defending champion, it’s again the Lancers’ derby to lose. There are questions entering this season, as they’ll again be breaking in a new goaltender and Casey Fitzgerald moved on to the United State National Team Development Program. However, with returning ESPN Boston Mr. Hockey award winner Ara Nazarian (a UNH commit) returning, anything’s possible with this group.
3. Springfield Cathedral
Last year’s record: 16-3-4
Last year’s final ranking: 7
Key returners: F Peter Crinella, G John Liquori, F Johnny Leonard, F D.J. Petruzzelli.
Why they’re here: The Panthers might have the best forward depth of any returning squad, but there are some serious voids to be filled on the blue line, with All-Staters Matt Foley and Jack Williams lost to graduation. However, for whatever Cathedral might lack in experience on defense, three-year starting netminder John Liquori should mask.
4. Central Catholic
Last year’s record: 15-7-3
Last year’s final ranking: 6
Key returners: F Zack Cote, F Lloyd Hayes, D Alex Lester, G Colin Soucy.
Why they’re here: Arguably, there was no bigger breakout star in last year’s Super 8 tournament than Colin Soucy. The then-junior goaltender backboned the Raiders in a hard-fought, three-game series against St. John’s Prep, nearly earning the upset against the top-seeded Eagles. Head coach Mike Jankowski’s teams are always defensively responsible and well-organized through the neutral zone, thus they are perennial staple to the tournament.
5. BC High
Last year’s record: 15-5-3
Last year’s final ranking: 5
Key returners: F Steve DeForge, F Pat Kramer, F Tim Larocque, F Jake Lemanski, D Ryan Shea, D Sam Topham.
Why they’re here: Of course, there’s the question of how will take Peter Cronin’s place in between the pipes, but the Eagles are deep on returning talent. Sophomore defenseman Ryan Shea has generated a good amount of Division 1 college interest in just one year at Morrissey Blvd. Meanwhile, junior Pat Kramer was among the Eagles’ top scorers last year. If the transition in net is smooth, they’re likely the second Catholic Conference team in.
Last year’s record: 16-6-3
Last year’s final ranking: 11
Key returners: F Brendan Greene, G James Offner, F Nolan Redler.
Why they’re here: The Sachems were a couple bounces and a shootout away from a Division 1 state title appearance last season, going down in a narrow defeat to eventual champion and Middlesex League rival Burlington. This year, Winchester could assume the poll position in the state’s premiere public school division. The aforementioned Red Devils and last year’s Super 8 entrant, Reading, both graduated significant portions of last year’s roster, so the time is now for the Sachems to make their run.
7. Archbishop Williams
Last year’s record: 13-6-4
Last year’s final ranking: 15
Key returners: D Matt Clifford, F Ryan Dunn, F Mike Jessman, F Nick Menzel, F Mike Sorrenti
Why they’re here: After an albeit brief appearance at last year’s Super 8 tournament – getting trounced by MC in a play-in game – the Bishops should remain a top team in the Catholic Central, which is often a two-bid league at the Super 8 table, with 13 seniors on the roster. They could be the team to push AP in league play, and if everything holds true, they’ll be in the picture come tournament time.
8. St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
Last year’s record: 7-11-4
Last year’s final ranking: N/A
Key returners: D Bryan Nelson, G Mario Pizzeri.
Why they’re here: Hey, what would a preseason picks segment be without a dark horse? Last year was a bumpy season at best for the Pioneers, but after a one-year absence from the Super 8 (and tournament play for that matter), St. John’s could be dangerous behind first-year head coach Mike Mead. The Pioneers are built from the net out, with Mario Pizzeri in goal – a holdover and standout in St. John’s Super 8 appearance two years ago.