The Malden Catholic hockey team, with an impressive display of skill, grit, and determination, captured the Super 8/Division 1A title for the fourth consecutive year, a run not accomplished in this state since Catholic Memorial did it from 1998 through 2001.
The Reading High boys pulled off an improbable late-season Cinderella ride that led to a storybook finish as the last team standing in Division 1.
In Beverly, the Division 2 Panthers put past demons to bed in an adversity-driven run that produced the program’s first-ever state title.
All three division champions journeyed on different roller coasters through the regular season and playoffs to finish the year on top.
A fifth-straight Super 8 final appearance coupled with a second-straight victory over Austin Prep has Malden Catholic entering the “dynasty” discussion.
Head coach John McLean , however, shrugs off such talk.
“It’s just a win,” was McLean’s response following Sunday’s 5-3 victory at TD Garden. “We try to win every single game. That’s it.
“It’s awesome, don’t get me wrong, but we have to get ready for next year.”
Senior left wing Tyler Sifferlen began and ended the Lancers’ potent offensive fury, scoring the game’s first goal in the final minute of the first period and Malden’s last goal at the end of the second frame.
Malden Catholic sucked the life out of the Cougars early in the second period, scoring three goals in just under 3½ minutes. Despite a Cougars’ push in the final 15 minutes, it was the Lancers’ night.
“It’s just an unbelievable feeling,” said Sifferlen, a University of Massachusetts Lowell recruit who scored a team-leading seven goals in the tournament.
“We deserve it. We just played our game, things happened, and it worked out.”
Reading was also a team of destiny.
Coach Mark Doherty’s club battled through what was dubbed a rebuilding year after the graduation of 17 seniors. His team came together in the second-half stretch, finishing the season with 11 wins in the final 12 games.
“It’s sort of surreal, quite honestly,” Doherty said. “None of us could have predicted this result.”
“I did know we had inexperience, but high-end skill,” Doherty added of this year’s turnover.
Doherty calls discipline the trademark of past and present Reading hockey success, including the 2008 Super 8 title under the direction of his father, Peter.
Discipline is also a characteristic of senior goaltender Ian Lapham , who after two years of sitting behind Evan Morelli , finally got his time to shine.
“I knew this was my last chance to make an impact in Reading history,” said Lapham, who finished Sunday’s 4-1 win over Braintree with 27 saves.
“Nobody really gave this team credit,” he added.
“It makes it even better now . . . It shows we always compete and we can do whatever we want, no matter what anyone else says.”
Beverly’s title run was a long time coming for the group of 10 seniors led by the program’s all-time leading scorer, Connor Irving , along with Graham Doherty and Jake Straw .
After two early playoff exits in back-to-back seasons, coach Bob Gilligan’s squad had no lack of motivation on its way to TD Garden.
“It’s the frosting on the cake,” Gilligan said of his seniors finally getting over the hump. “The kids held tough, and they’re just fighters.
“It was so important to keep this string together and earn the championship for the town.”
Junior goalie Tim Birarelli was a shutdown anchor in the crease.
“I like being the guy that’s going to be the hero or zero at the end of the night,” Birarelli said. “It was definitely cool that I was able to hold down the fort.
“Nothing rattles us,” he added of fighting through adversity. “Just a big sigh of relief that we can get it done.
“It’s something special that I’ll never forget.”
Here’s a look at journeys of the three state champs, in addition to that of the state finalist Austin Prep boys.
Malden Catholic (20-4)
Division 1A champions
Key moments in regular season: Losses to both BC High and Catholic Memorial were wake-up calls for coach John McClean’s club. The Lancers won the rematches two weeks later.
Key stat: The regular season featured two 40-point scorers in junior Ara Nazarian (20 goals, 27 assists) and senior Tyler Sifferlen (18 goals, 24 assists.)
Coach John McClean: “They’re a team with a lot of people against them, and I’m pretty happy and proud of them. You don’t see much emotion, but there was a little bit of emotion after the game. This mattered to them.”
Defining moment of state final: The Lancers pounced on the Cougars early in the second frame with three consecutive goals in the first four minutes, building a 4-0 advantage at that point.
Unsung hero: Junior goalie Alex Reissis quietly earned his first title win. Overshadowed by MC’s offensive stars, he had a crucial impact in net.
The future: Sifferlen and Nick Rolli headline a group of six graduating seniors, leaving the returning players with big skates to fill.
Reading High (17-8-2)
Division 1 state champions
Key moment in regular season: After a loss to Burlington Jan. 27, the Rockets dropped to 6-7-2. But they then won six of seven heading into the tournament.
Key stat: Ian Lapham turned away 27 Braintree shots in Sunday’s final after a monstrous 38-save performance through two overtimes and 11 shootout rounds against Wilmington in the North final.
Coach Mark Doherty: “I want to have high hopes every year. We’ll keep having high hopes. My goal every year, even if we’re overmatched talent-wise, I think we can win the games. That’s just the way we are.”
Defining moment of the state final: Junior forward Sean Verrier’s late second-period goal pushed Reading’s lead back to 3-1 after Braintree threatened to tie.
Unsung hero: James Donaghey , a senior forward, played a major role as setup man on second line in tournament.
The future: The Rockets graduate nine seniors, including their top two scorers and goaltender.
Division 2 state champions
Key moment in regular season: Beverly’s 4-2 win over Westford Jan. 20 was the team’s first sign of clicking together.
Key stat: Irving finished his four-year career as the program’s all-time leading scorer (196 points).
Coach Bob Gilligan: “Little kids look at these kids like they’re the Bruins. You’re going to remember this the rest of your life; what you do now in high school is just so important. The way they carried themselves, to me, just made it so special.”
Defining moment of the state final: In a scrum in front of the net, junior forward Jesse Maclaughlin tapped in the game-winning goal just over two minutes into the third period.
Unsung hero: Senior defenseman Matt Hamor earned praise from Gilligan for his grit in the defensive zone.
The future: Goalie Tim Birarelli returns for his senior season to anchor a squad that will graduate 10 seniors.
Austin Prep (16-5-4)
Division 1A state finalist
Key moment in the regular season: After a slew of injuries to key starters, the Cougars returned a healthy roster in the final week of the regular season.
Key stat: Five players scored 20-plus points for AP in the regular season, led by Robert Carpenter’s 21 goals and 12 assists.
Coach Louis Finocchiaro: “We’re not pleased with just being here. We think we’re good enough, and we want to get back here and win a Super 8 championship. No question about it.”
Defining moment of state final: Carpenter’s back-to-back third-period goals uplifted a Cougars’ final hurrah that fell short.
Unsung hero: Finocchiaro lauded the work of Mike Eagen , J.J Layton, and Cam Russo .
The future: The Cougars will graduate just two seniors.