After going wire to wire as the No. 1-ranked team in the Globe’s Top 20 this season, defending Super 8 champion Malden Catholic will once again look to win the state’s elite hockey tournament as the top seed for the second straight year.
The Lancers (14-1-3), who finished the season with a plus-66 goal differential, were a unanimous choice for selection into the tournament yesterday, as well as the No. 1 seed, which places them atop Bracket 1 for the initial round of games.
“We’ll take it one practice at a time,’’ said Malden Catholic coach John McLean. “All we can do is worry about who we’re going to play. There’s a lot of real good teams and real good coaches. I’m just hoping it’s as exciting as it was last year.’’
St. Mary’s, which lost in a play-in game a year ago, will get its first real chance at Super 8 play after being unanimously chosen as the No. 2 seed following an 18-1-3 season in which it captured the Catholic Central title.
“They got a little taste of it last year,’’ said St. Mary’s coach Mark Lee. “I think that drove them to this level.’’
The Spartans have a balanced attack that is bolstered by sophomore goaltender Bailey MacBurnie, who in his first year as starter posted a 1.30 goals against average in 20 starts.
“This year was his year and he has answered the call every single game,’’ said Lee. “We’re very proud of the accomplishments of all these kids.’’
Hingham, the Super 8 champions from 2010, slid in at the fourth seed, putting the Harbormen (14-4-2) in the path of the Lancers in Bracket 1. Joining them will be fifth-seeded BC High (9-5-4), who tied Malden Catholic during the regular season, and the winner of a play-in game between Needham (16-3-0) and St. John’s of Shrewsbury (14-4-3).
Joining St. Mary’s in Bracket 2 will be the third-seeded Eagles of St. John’s Prep (12-5-2), who lost in overtime to Malden Catholic in the title game last season.
Springfield Cathedral (9-5-6) was voted in at the sixth seed, which is the last slot that ensures a team entry into the tournament. Seeds 7-10 must earn their spots via the play-in games.
Middlesex League Small champs Burlington (12-1-6) grabbed the seventh seed, despite being one of only two teams in Division 1 with one loss. It will faceoff against 10th-seeded Central Catholic (11-3-4), which won a tough MVC/DCL. That game will be played at Merrimack College tomorrow night at 8:15.
The play-in game between eighth-seeded Needham and ninth-seeded St. John’s (S) will precede it at 5:45 p.m.
Before seeding the teams, the committee made selections for the 10 teams that would make up the Super 8 field from a list of 14 nominees.
With nine teams already in place and five left on the nomination board for one spot, tension filled the room as the committee members decided between two teams, ultimately selecting St. John’s of Shrewsbury over Marshfield.
Prediction: From all accounts Malden Catholic should roll to its second straight title. It has a 6-0-2 mark against Super 8 opponents. But things don’t come easily in the Super 8 tournament, where the best teams in Massachusetts have their own high expectations.
Three of the best goaltenders in the state will be on display with St. John’s Prep’s David Letarte, BC High’s Peter Cronin, and Central Catholic’s Kyle Williams. The Prep also boasts one of the best lines around with Boston University-bound Sam Kurker, junior Brian Pinho, and sophomore Tyler Bird working like a well-oiled machine.
St. Mary’s, which looks poised to make a nice run, will hope MacBurnie can emulate Cronin’s sensational run as a sophomore last year. Like Cronin, MacBurnie has a tie against Malden Catholic this season. The Spartans also lost to the Lancers, 5-1, in the season opener, which is in the books as an exclusionary game and puts them at 18-0-3 in the eyes of the MIAA.
Malden Catholic doesn’t exclude that game from its record and won’t soon forget that tie from the Kasabuski Classic. They roll out three solid lines and have an array of offensive weapons from first-liners Brendan Collier and Ryan Fitzgerald, to freshman Ara Nazarian. Their unheralded defense, led by Brendan White and Casey Fitzgerald, will be what ultimately leads the Lancers to back-to-back titles.
Of course those few who were on the Super 8 table and had their chairs kicked out from under them will carry on in the Division 1 tournament.
Look for Marshfield to really try and send the Super 8 committee a message as it gets a chance to defend its Division 1 title.
Milton will also be another force in the South sectional after flying under the radar until the final few weeks. The Wildcats scored the most goals in Division 1 (116), behind the senior leadership of Paul Curran, Terrance Walsh, and Brian Higgins.
The North bracket will include Westford Academy, which also had a Super 8-ready résumé that got as close as any team not named Marshfield.
There are still two more teams to be added to the mix, as the losers in the Super 8 play-in games are relegated to the Division 1 tournament where they will earn top seeds.
Prediction: The Super 8 play-in teams will certainly be a factor, but Marshfield and Milton will be playing with chips on their shoulders, which could set up an entertaining South final if they were to both get there. Westford, in the North, will also be a factor with its dangerous top line of Cam MacDonald, Jay Drapeau, and Ian Speliotis.
North sectional top seed Lynnfield (17-3-1) and second-seeded Boston Latin (14-2-4) will have hills to climb on their way to the Garden.
If the Pioneers make it out of the first round, Lynnfield will be forced to play the winner of Wakefield-Newburyport, both of whom are foes it dispatched during the regular season.
Boston Latin will look to senior captain Conal Lynch (32 goals, 14 assists), who is eager to finish his career on the same ice as best friend Brendan Collier of Malden Catholic.
If top-seeded Franklin is to return to the Garden for the second straight year, it will most likely have to go through Hockomock rival and No. 2 seed Canton, winner of both regular-season meetings and the league title in the process.
Prediction: Cape Ann League champion Triton (15-4-2) could sneak up on some teams, but Lynnfield looks to be the power in the North bracket. They say it is hard to beat a team three times in one season, but it’s doubtful Canton will feel that way if it faces Franklin one more time.
Offensively, Cohasset is about as dangerous as it gets, having scored 123 goals. The Skippers finished with a 9-0-1 run and a potential semifinal matchup against Pembroke looks to be their toughest test.
It will be hard for defending Division 3 champ Marblehead to repeat, having earned the lowest seed in the North after a 7-11-2 campaign.
Catholic Central II champions Lowell Catholic has played solid competition all year, which should have it more than ready for a deep tournament run.
Prediction: Lowell Catholic boasts three double-digit goal scorers in Jake Sartorelli (19), Garret Martel (14), and Rick Cincotta (12), which should power the Fighting Crusaders to a finals run. If they faceoff against Cohasset, then it is expected to be a high-scoring affair.