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Thursday, March 13, 2014
Super 8 semifinals notes and picks

By Scott Barboza

Before the puck drops on tonight’s Super 8 semifinals matchups at Tsongas Center (6 and 8 p.m.), here’s a smattering of note from the tournament along with picks:

Panthers’ prowess: Springfield Cathedral flexed its offensive muscle in its close-out victory over Duxbury a week ago, scoring three goals on the power play in a 6-3 final.

The key to the Panthers’ near perfection on the man-advantage in the tournament is both in its scheme and its personnel.

Let’s start with the scheme. Brian Foley has implemented an umbrella-style power play – meaning there’s a single “blue-liner” -- in the case of Cathedral, that’s talented freshman defenseman Dan Petrick – who plays in the middle of the ice sheet. The pivot men are two players who play along the half-wing boards and have the choice of making passes into the slot, back to the point man, or across the sheet to the other wing.

Lastly, in Foley’s unit, there are two forwards who are positioned in the slot, stacked on top of each other. The low man is tasked with setting the screen on the goaltender and creating traffic, while looking for rebounds and low-slot opportunities if the half-wings decide to move play down below the dots. The high-slot forward can either slide down on point shots, or look for deflection attempts, while providing the main outlet for half-wing passes.

What really makes Cathedral’s unit hum, however, is that the Panthers have the perfect personnel to run the umbrella.

In the Super 8, the responsibility of playing the half-wings have gone to UMass-Amherst commit Johnny Leonard and brother tandem Riley and Zac Prattson. Meanwhile, the Panthers have a pair of true “power forwards” in Quinnipiac recruit D.J. Petruzzelli (the low man) and Holy Cross commit Peter Crinella (high slot).

“We can really run any kind of power play and it’s going to be effective with the way they move the puck,” Cathedral head coach Brian Foley said of his unit last Thursday.

To beat three-time defending Super 8 champion Malden Catholic in the teams’ semi-final tilt, the Panthers will have to have a vibrant power play once again.

However, there is recent precedent, as Cathedral knocked off MC, 5-2, in the championship game of its host February vacation tournament.

“It was a great game in our tournament,” Foley said, “but it’s a whole new ballgame. They’re the three-time champs, they’re the team to beat as far as I’m concerned.”

Get back: While finishing off its first-round series sweep of Central Catholic, Austin Prep was able to lull the Raiders to sleep in the third period of a 4-1 win.

Although the Raiders finished the game with 20 shots on goal, only six came in the final period, when AP constructed a virtual brick wall along its blue line.

Throughout their Game 2 win, and in particular the third period, the Cougars showed a killer’s instinct on defense, with their defense standing up to meet whatever Central could create on the rush through a sticky neutral zone.

“We did a nice job of holding the neutral zone and staying back, not falling back,” AP head coach Louis Finocchiaro said after last week’s win. “That’s what we’ve talked about, we don’t down want to sit on [a lead], they’re going to have to take chances and try to stretch the zone. You just have to make sure you stay back.”

Keeping a third man high to eliminate their opponents’ transition game, the Cougars forwards – to a man – were tremendous during their best-of-three series in snuffing out Central’s D-men from stepping up in the play and creating on the rush, with a robust backcheck.

Everything else was left to Elijah Harris was played with ease, as the junior goaltender has been on point throughout.

Now, the key for AP is replicating that performance against top seed BC High, which beat the Cougars, 6-2, during the final week of the season.

“They like to stretch it through center zone also,” Finocchiaro said of the Eagles, “so doing a good job with that here in the third period, and holding on to the lead, and playing with confidence, I think is important.”

Picks: Now, for the moment you’ve been waiting for, here are my Super 8 semi-final picks.
BC HIGH 3, Austin Prep 1 – Pat Kramer’s return could be the difference here.
MALDEN CATHOLIC 5, Springfield Cathedral 4 – Did you really think I’d pick against the three-time defending champions? That being said, this one sure is going to be entertaining.