The talent pool within the Malden Catholic hockey program never seems to run dry. There is a set formula in place here that other teams can only wish they could replicate. Talented players leave and new ones arrive to take their place.
That is what happens when you are the best program in the state.
Past standouts such as Brendan Collier, Ryan Fitzgerald, Mike Vecchione, Mike Iovanna, Ara Nazarian and Tyler Sifferlen have all donned the interlocking "MC" jersey with a certain sense of pride. Each of them, in their own subtle way, made solid contributions in forging the Lancers into the super power they are today.
Rebuilding? That word does not exist in Malden Catholic vocabulary.
The latest prodigy is Matt Filipe. The first line centerman, like his aforementioned predecessors, plays the game the way it should be played. Filipe demonstrates a certain style of grace on the ice, making it look effortlessness. His puck handling skills and shooting touch have left opposing defenses mesmerized and often befuddled.
"His level of play is equal to guys we have had here in the past," Lancers head coach John McLean said.
Filipe has played varsity since his freshman year. During those early stages of his career, McLean, along with valued assistant coaches Phil Antonelli and Pat Driscoll, saw something in Filipe from the get-go and were not about to let his talents go to waste at the junior varsity level, especially if he could contribute right away to an already established varsity unit.
In Filipe's first two seasons, he played a prominent role in helping lead Malden Catholic to a pair of Super 8 titles – the Lancers’ third and fourth crowns in the last four years. The junior is now the front man for a team completely invested on trying to bring home a fifth straight championship to the suburban Boston school.
Malden Catholic enters its final week of regular season play before the main event begins in a couple of weeks. The Lancers have held onto the ESPN Boston Top 25 poll No. 1 ranking since the start of the season with an exceptional 13-0-2 record. They are just one of a handful of teams favored to win the state's most highly touted high school hockey tournament.
Filipe, a Lynnfield native, says when he first suited up for Malden Catholic he was a bit tentative due to the program's success rate and myriad of star players who have come before him.
"During my freshman year, I was more worried about not messing up," Filipe said with a laugh. "Last year, as a sophomore, I started to get into my comfort zone and now this year I've tried to take things to the next level. Since my freshman year, I have been told and continue to be told by my coaches is what this team has accomplished in the past means nothing. It's all about moving forward here.
“The goal is to win another Super 8 and that is what we are expected to do. Anything less than that is considered a disappointment."
Filipe, along with line mates Austin Goldstein and Jake Witkowski, have made themselves into one of the most formidable offensive trios state wide, thus far combining for 44 points.
As fluent a player he has become, there was still something missing from Filipe's game early in his career. McLean felt it was necessary for Filipe to begin learning the process of becoming a team leader. McLean realized that role would fall onto him once Collier, Iovanna, Sifferlen and Vecchione left.
In the interim, the expectations have risen considerably for Filipe, a co-captain, to take control of this team along with fellow captains John McLean and Will Lawrence. But McLean has been out for a couple of weeks, sidelined with a foot injury. Therefore it is up to the other two to carry the load.
"With John out, Matt and Will need to be the mouth of this team on and off the ice," the elder McLean said. "Other than being a great player, the leadership role, to me, is the most important thing. What they do and how they play, the other kids will follow."
Filipe, who stands 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, was raised into a hockey family. His father Paul won a state tile while playing for Hudson High School in 1978. He then went to Northeastern University and helped guide the Huskies to an ECAC championship and a Frozen Four appearance in 1982.
Filipe will follow in his father's footsteps, having already accepted a verbal scholarship offer to play for Northeastern.
"It is going to be fun and I am really looking forward to it," Filipe said. "I grew up going to Northeastern games. It was a place where I wanted to go. My father has been with me every step of the way. He was my first coach and has basically coached me up until high school. I've learned a lot from him as well as from my coaches here at Malden Catholic. All have helped me develop as a player."
When Filipe was in middle school, it became a no-brainer as to where he planned to attend high school. As gifted a hockey player like himself, what better place was there to go other than Malden Catholic? It is quite obvious the Lancer coaching staff is equally overjoyed by his decision.
"When you need a goal or an assist at a crucial time Matt is the person to look to," said Antonelli. "With his maturity level growing, I feel he has brought his game up to a whole different level. I tell Matt that opposing teams are coming after him all the time because he is our best player. He understands that and he realizes he needs to play through all of that stuff and remain focused. Because of that, it has opened up opportunities for our other kids to get open and score.
“However, if Matt does lose his composure out there then everyone else around him will lose theirs as well. That is why he needs to set that tone every night. For a 17- or 18-year-old that is a big role to fulfill. Not a lot of kids can do that but those who can are special players.”
A year ago, Filipe was chosen to play for the U.S. U-18 Select Team, taking part in the prestigious Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup in the Czech Republic. Filipe was teamed with two other New England products – Erik Foley (Tabor Academy) and Spenser Young (Phillips Exeter Academy). Both of whom have committed to play for Providence College.
Filipe's development upon returning from over seas was quickly noticed by the Lancers coaches.
"That type of experience, as with all of our student-athletes here, is something to be very proud of," said Driscoll, who is also Malden Catholic's athletic director. "Everyone is extremely proud of Matt to be part of that team because it is such a major accomplishment. The experience gained while he was over there was great, especially from a maturity standpoint. Just being around those others guys on that team and seeing how all of them prepare, not to mention the coaches he played under, Matt was able to pick up many things along the way to help improve his overall game.
He added, “He has really become a kid that, when he wants to, can really turn it on. He has that extra gear and when he uses it, it really shows out there. There aren't too many high school kids with that kind of quality. Matt has it."