When Sam Topham scored just 1 minute, 58 seconds into the Super 8 final back in March, his BC High Eagles were confident that they would leave TD Garden as champions.
As fate would have it, Malden Catholic overwhelmed its Catholic Conference rivals with three unanswered goals to win their second straight Super 8 championship.
The Lancers open this season as the top-ranked team in the winter’s first Globe rankings.
The championship game was the fourth meeting between the teams last season and was a fitting end to a tooth-and-nail, season-long battle.
With the return of 12 forwards and arguably the state’s top goaltender in Peter Cronin, No. 2 BC High is ready for another showdown at the Garden, with plans on finishing the job this time around.
“Two years ago we made it to the semifinals and we lost to a very good Malden Catholic team,” said BC High coach John Flaherty. “Last year we made it to the finals and again lost to a very good Malden Catholic team.
“Not a lot of people gave us a chance to win. We truly believe we could have won that game. But the experience you gain going through those two processes we hope will bring value to this season.”
The number of forwards gives Flaherty room to mix his flyers and grinders while having the added comfort that his players are experienced finishers, none more so than Tom Besinger. The junior had a coming-out party during last season’s Super 8 tournament, striking for four goals.
Speed and skill are words often associated with Besinger, and along with junior Steve DeForge, sophomore Tim Larocque, and seniors Michael Brooks and Ryan McDonough, he is part of a group that is capable of scoring in bunches.
But ultimately, with a depleted blue line, the bulk of pressure may fall on Cronin, an All-Scholastic goalie who has more than 60 starts, posting a sub-2 goals-against average in his career.
“Guys like Peter Cronin give you a chance to win every night,” said Flaherty. “He’s got a lot of experience and he’s determined to do well.”
A grueling offseason in which program architect and head coach Chris Serino died after a battle with cancer and four would-be, top-notch starters left, the Lancers are eager to get back to the business of defending their back-to-back titles.
UMass-bound captain Mike Iovanna, who scored in last year’s final, will look to lead the team’s top scoring line alongside UMass-Lowell commit Tyler Sifferlin and sophomore forward Ara Nazarian, a true goal scorer who boasts a strong frame.
“We need to find our way as our team,” said Malden Catholic coach John McLean. “We have four lines of speed, which is nice. Everybody accepting their roles and playing as a team is going to be our issue.”
As is seemingly the case every year, No. 3 St. John’s Prep will be in the mix, especially with special players such as Providence commit Brian Pinho and Tyler Bird leading the offensive attack.
“Pinho will probably be the best player in the league this year,” said McLean. “He’s really taken off . . . he’s flying.”
And of course no title talk would be complete without mentioning Catholic Memorial. Despite missing the postseason the past two seasons, the tandem of Liam Coughlin and Jack O’Hear should have the fifth-ranked Knights right back where they belong.
Three Catholic Central teams — No. 8 Arlington Catholic, No. 10 Archbishop Williams, and No. 11 Austin Prep — are looking to make a major push.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how Austin does,” said McLean. “They’ve really loaded up. They are young and loaded.”
In the public sector, fourth-ranked Hingham has a solid core of returnees that includes forward Sam D’Antuono, defenseman John Carlson, and goalie John Grenier.
Other public hopefuls include a mass of Middlesex League teams fronted by No. 6 Reading, which returns 15 players, and No. 15 Arlington, which is looking to get back on track after some down years.
No. 7 Chelmsford is another public hopeful looking to assert itself, and behind All-Scholastic forward Tommy Bishop, who had 55 points (17 goals, 38 assists) as a junior, the Lions will be there in the end should they survive a brutal MVC/DCL schedule.
Division 2 — After a seamless transition from the Cape Ann League to the Middlesex League, No. 20 Wilmington captured a state title.
Another year in the Middlesex should allow the Wildcats to pick up right where they left off, and with the return of Cam Owens up front and Drew Foley in net, they are more than capable of reaching the Garden ice again.
Their opponent in last year’s final, No. 16 Franklin, is just as capable of reaching that point as well.
Look for teams like No. 14 Beverly, Danvers, North Quincy, and Mansfield to throw a wrench into the plans of any finals rematch.
Division 3 — After being dumped by Rockland in the South sectional semifinals last year, Medfield returns as a solid contender for the Division 3 crown with Matt Dresens poised to light the lamp frequently.
Tri-Valley League rival Medway, the Division 3 South sectional champion last season, will look to do everything it can to ensure the Warriors don’t meet their goals as goal scorer Jack Kilty and crew vie to prove themselves once more.