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Super 8 field set to battle

Malden Catholic’s chase for a fourth straight Division 1A championship will begin where its last three title clinchers ended as the opening games of the 2014 MIAA Super 8 are played Sunday at TD Garden. For the first time in nearly two decades, the Garden will play host to games outside of traditional “Championship Sunday,” which will be held March 16. Tickets for Sunday’s games are $10.95 if purchased in advance on MIAA.net or $15 at the door. The second games of the best-of-three series will be played at the Tsongas Center Wednesday and Thursday.

Here, in chronological order of their start times, is a breakdown of the four Super 8 first-round matchups:

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No. 4 Austin Prep vs. No. 5 Central Catholic, noon — The winners of the Catholic Central crown will take on the Merrimack Valley/Dual County champions in the opening game. Led by CCL co-MVP and Boston University commit Bobo Carpenter (23-11—34), Austin Prep will be looking for another title berth after falling just short to Malden Catholic last winter. Its first test will come against Central Catholic, which carries an explosive first line with seniors Corey Webber (12-26—38), Alex Lester (15-16—31), and MVC/DCL MVP Lloyd Hayes (11-24-35). The real battle may come between the pipes, as both goalies made names for themselves in the Division 1A tournament last winter. Central senior Colin Soucy elevated his game in bringing the Raiders within a game of upsetting 2013 top seed St. John’s Prep, and has carried that momentum straight through this season (1.86 GAA). At the other goal line will stand junior Elijah Harris (2.05 GAA), who backstopped the Cougars to their first Super 8 title appearance. The teams met once in the regular season, with Central skating to a 4-1 win over the Cougars on Jan. 1.

No. 3 Springfield Cathedral vs. No. 6 Duxbury, 2 p.m. — Flag-bearer as the lone public school in the field, Duxbury will be making its return to the Super 8 for the first time since 2006. The Dragons finished the regular season as winners of 16 of their last 17 games, including a monumental 5-2 win over the tournament’s top seed, BC High last week. Springfield Cathedral has the highest-scoring offense in Division 1 with 127 goals in 22 games. Panthers juniors Peter Crinella (Holy Cross commit) and D.J. Petruzzelli (Quinnipiac) lead Division 1 in points with 54 and 53, respectively, while sophomore Johnny Leonard (UMass-Amherst) and freshman Riley Prattson stand within striking distance of the 50-point plateau. Opposite such a formidable offense, all eyes will be on senior Tucker Kelly, Duxbury’s first-year starting goaltender, who has allowed more than two goals only twice since the calendar turned to 2014. The teams did not meet this season.

No. 2 Malden Catholic vs. No. 7 Catholic Memorial, 4:30 p.m. — Two of the most storied hockey programs in the state will square off as 13-time Super 8 champion Catholic Memorial tries to knock off the three-time defending champion Lancers. There are few teams that can match the speed and skill of the Malden Catholic top line with Hockey East commits Tyler Sifferlen and Ara Nazarian. As a sophomore in the 2013 Super 8, Nazarian was a one-man wrecking ball with nine goals (four shorthanded) in five games as Malden Catholic became the first No. 10 seed to win it all. Following a slow finish to the regular season, the Knights are confident they have regained traction. As a freshman last year, sophomore goaltender Brandon Collett carried Catholic Memorial past archrival BC High and into the Super 8 semifinals. Catholic Memorial took the season’s first meeting Jan. 25, 3-2, but was routed by the Lancers, 11-0, three weeks later. Malden Catholic has won 14 consecutive Super 8 games and is seeking the first four-peat since the Knights (1998-2001).

No. 1 BC High vs. No. 8 Xaverian, 6:30 p.m. — BC High is the top seed for the first time since 2003 and boasts one of the deepest rosters in the tournament, having returned 10 forwards and seven defensemen. Up front, junior Pat Kramer (Merrimack commit) leads the Eagles with 33 points. Sophomore Ryan Shea has been a menace from the blue line with 27 points. The real revelation for the Eagles has been goaltender Brandon Payzant, who has filled big shoes following the departure of two-time Globe Super Team goaltender Peter Cronin. Payzant, a sophomore from Somerville, has a 1.53 goals-against average, which stands as the best in the Super 8 field. The Eagles will be tested by Xaverian’s Tony Marini (15-37—52), Tim Sweeney (16-30—46), and Jon Beniers (13-22—35) who make up the top scoring line in the Catholic Conference. After skating to a 2-2 tie on Jan. 4, the Eagles claimed the season series over Xaverian with a 5-1 win on Jan. 22.

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