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High School Hockey

Standing on the last line of defense

Central Catholic goalie Colin Soucy, a second-year starter, blocks a shot during a recent game against Andover.

Photos by Mark Lorenz for the Boston Globe

Central Catholic goalie Colin Soucy, a second-year starter, blocks a shot during a recent game against Andover.

Colin Soucy stood poised in his butterfly stance, pointing down the ice with his left glove as he directed teammates into defensive positions.

The Central Catholic goaltender’s eyes were locked in as the Andover power play unfurled in front of him. After using his pads to deflect a shot to his right, Soucy instinctively slid back to his left and made a full-extension dive to snatch an ensuing shot with his glove.

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He saved the potential goal that would have given Andover an early 1-0 lead in the first period of Saturday night’s contest. The Red Raiders went on to score six unanswered goals en route to a 6-0 victory, earning Soucy his first shutout of the season.

Soucy’s diving stop was more than just a point-saver; it was a momentum changer. His ability to change the dynamic of a game on a single play is what sets his position apart.

“That’s the key, and it’s no secret to anyone,” Central Catholic coach Mike Jankowski said of having a threat in net. “He’s the last line of defense, and what he does as an individual has the biggest impact on a team and can not only dictate an entire game, but a season.”

In his second year as a starter, Soucy has anchored CC to a 12-3-3 record while posting a 1.90 goals-against average and .900 save percentage. The 6-foot, 175-pound senior captain possesses the ability to stand tall in goal and shuffle his feet to align himself squared at all angles.

“He remains disciplined to his trade, not getting too high or too low,” Jankowski said of Soucy. “His mind-set and approach doesn’t change; and that’s what sets him apart.”

‘What he does as an individual has the biggest impact on a team and can not only dictate an entire game, but a season.’

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North Reading coach John Giulotti compares the goaltender position to the quarterback in football — suited for a player whose mentality doesn’t change through the ups and downs of a grinding 45-minute shift.

“It’s like having a coach on the ice. He see’s everything,” Giulotti said. “From team tendencies to power-play adjustments.”

Giulotti’s coach on the ice has been senior Keith Linnane , a four-year starter who has posted a 1.30 GAA, .944 save percentage, and three shutouts this season.

The 5-foot-8, 180 pound senior captain has been the calming influence for Giulotti’s club (12-2-2), usually good for one of those “Are you kidding me?” saves once a game. As a leader whose voice is well heard in the locker room, there is not much Linnane has not seen or experienced in his time behind the net, making his coach’s job less stressful.

“Every time I fill out my game card and I put Number 29 as my starting goalie, I know it’s one area I don’t have to worry about,” Giulotti said of Linnane.

That area is also the key ingredient for a team’s success come tournament time, when the one-game elimination system offers a heavy advantage to the side loaded in the crease.

“During the playoffs, they should rename the sport and call it ‘goalie,’ ” Giulotti said. “It’s probably the most important position in all of sports.”

St. Mary’s coach Mark Lee echoes that belief.

“If you have a goalie who stands on his head, they have the ability to steal and win games they probably shouldn’t,” Lee said.

Lee has one of those goalies in Bailey MacBurnie .

The well-schooled and aggressive 6-foot-1 senior captain came back to St. Mary’s this season after a year with Brewster Academy and has posted a 1.50 GAA, .940 save percentage, and six shutouts.

MacBurnie returned to not only play with his brother Shawn , but to lead the Spartans (13-5-2) — who missed the playoffs for the first time in 18 seasons in his absence last year — back to the Super 8 tournament where he starred two years ago.

“He takes the game personal if he gets beat,” Lee said. “First guy in locker room, last guy out. That mentality carries out on ice. He is our backbone.”

The same can be said for Tewksbury’s Kyle Paquette , the junior crease-tender who leads the state with seven shutouts, while also sporting a 1.08 GAA and .950 save percentage.

According to Tewksbury (14-2-2) coach Derek Doherty , Paquette’s communication skills set him as one of the state’s top netminders.

“Read and react is probably one of the biggest parts of being a successful goaltender, and Kyle does that pretty well,” Doherty said of his third-year starter.

In Beverly, junior Tim Birarelli “holds the fort down” for coach Bob Gilligan’s Panthers.

The third-year starter leads the state’s only undefeated team (17-0-1) with a 1.33 GAA and six shutouts.

Birarelli’s 6-foot stature and ever-growing strength is eye-popping to Gilligan. His smooth puck-handling skills are complemented by unmatched power.

“He’s the strongest kid I’ve seen in high school hockey,” Gilligan said. “He can feed a forward just as quick as a defenseman can.”

With great responsibilities come great expectations.

The goaltending position requires a player who is unfazed by the challenging circumstances that face the lone soldier between the pipes.

Soucy and Linnane, among many others, thrive on that pressure.

“Making the big save and silencing the crowd at an away game is probably one of the greatest feelings in the world,” Soucy said. “It’s the best position in all of sports, so why not play it?”

Linnane added: “Everyone’s looking at you; it’s all about confidence. When the puck comes in the zone it’s strictly business; see the puck, save the puck.”

That business only kicks up a notch for goaltenders around the state as the tournament approaches. Their impact, more than any other position, will go a long way into determining who leaves TD Garden on top.

Girls’ teams to watch

 BEVERLY (14-2-2): The Panthers are loaded offensively with a trio of 50-plus point-scorers in Julia Nearis (36 goals, 23 assists), Nicole Woods (24 goals, 34 assists), and Kristen McCarthy (17 goals, 35 assists).

 WOBURN (13-4-1): Senior goaltender Courtney Davis (1.12 GAA, .930 save percentage, seven shutouts) has been a strong mainstay between the pipes for coach Bob MacCurtain’s club all season.

 METHUEN/TEWKSBURY (16-1): Led by the prolific scoring junior forward Amanda Conway’s state-leading 46 goals, the Rangers will prove to be a tough out in the Division 2 tournament.

 ST. MARY’S (9-5-5): The defending Division 1 state champions head into the playoffs battle-tested after enduring a tough regular season schedule. Senior goaltender Lauren Skinnion (1.39 GAA, .943 save percentage, six shutouts) can be an X-factor for the Spartans.

 WINCHESTER (11-4-2): First-year coach Craig Seabury’s Sachems roll into the tourney having reeled off impressive wins over Division 1 heavyweights Reading (4-3) and Woburn (1-0) earlier in the season. Senior forward Alaina Ewing paces the offense with 12 goals and 13 assists.

Joseph Saade can be reached at joseph.saade@globe.com
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