In the current state of high school hockey, Springfield Cathedral is an anomaly.
Trendy is the choice of top college prospects to bypass their final year or two of high school in favor of roster spots with prep schools and junior clubs. Not at Cathedral, where the Panthers boast six Division 1 commits — by far the most of any MIAA school.
And with only one player departing from last season’s Super 8 semifinalists, the Panthers begin the season as the Globe’s No. 1 boys’ hockey team.
“They look hungry,” Panthers coach Brian Foley said of his returning 22 players. “We’ve been knocking on the door the last few years, but we’re just a more mature team. It’s early, everyone is excited about the new season, and we’re excited to get going.”
Junior John Leonard (UMass commit) is the diamond among gems at the forward position. An invitee to the US National Team Development camp in the spring, Leonard returns with a talented cast of supporters in seniors DJ Petruzzelli (Quinnipiac), Peter Crinella (Holy Cross), and sophomore Riley Prattson (Providence).
Behind talented blue liner Dan Petrick (Northeastern), 6-foot-6-inch sophomore goaltender Keith Petruzzelli (Quinnipiac) is eager to build off a strong freshman campaign in which he split time with departed netminder John Liquori.
Hot on Cathedral’s trail is No. 2 BC High. The Eagles are strong down the center as they return forward Pat Kramer (Merrimack), defenseman Ryan Shea (Northeastern), and an underrated Brandon Payzant in net.
Malden Catholic begins its “One for the Thumb” campaign at No. 3, with holes to fill in its chase to become only the second team to win five consecutive Super 8 titles (Catholic Memorial, 1991-95).
Gone from the Lancers are 50-point scorers in Tyler Sifferlen and Ara Nazarian (USHL), though junior Matt Filipe appears primed to become the next great MC scorer. Count on senior captain John McLean and Dexter transfer Matt Ciulla to help shore up the defensive corps.
Seasoned veterans at No. 4 Catholic Memorial and No. 5 Xaverian, along with a resurgent No. 12 St. John’s Prep, make the Catholic Conference a perfect 5 for 5 in the preseason Top 20.
Twelve seniors depart from No. 6 Central Catholic, but the Raiders have added freshman Jake Wise, who is already committed to Boston University. He should make an immediate impact up top with forwards Christian Thompson and Eric Robbins.
The Catholic Central Large will be merciless once again, headed by a motivated No. 7 St. Mary’s squad that was the last team out of the 2014 Division 1A field.
Seniors Connor Jennings and Ryan Borders will split time in place of All-Scholastic netminder Bailey MacBurnie. MacBurnie’s younger brother, Shawn, will spearhead the offense, flanked by veterans Eric Pedro and Dante Maribito.
“We can’t for one second think that we’re there right now,” Spartans coach Mark Lee said, “but we certainly have confidence that we’re going to be competitive against the top teams.”
Seniors Ryan Smith and Ryan Tierney will power No. 9 Arlington Catholic, while No. 10 Austin Prep begins with an array of question marks.
Having reached consecutive Super 8 finals, Austin Prep must replace a slew of early departures in forward Bobo Carpenter (USHL), defenseman JJ Layton, and goalie Elijah Harris (both Kimball Union). Expect forwards Cam Russo, Jake McKenelley, and Eric MacAdams to produce at a high clip, while freshman Cam Regan will replace Harris in net.
Seniors Kevin Quinlivan and Patrick Storer will help usher No. 14 St. John’s of Shrewsbury back in the fold, while goaltender Matt McCaughey will anchor No. 15 Archbishop Williams.
Defending Division 1 champion Reading starts at No. 8, the flag-bearer for the public schools. The Rockets return one of the state’s best defensemen in senior Mike Seibold. Matt Thomson and Sean Verrier will pace the offensive attack.
Though young, the Rockets have enough talent to vie for a return to the Super 8.
“We have enough kids who have played in big games,” said Rockets coach Mark Doherty. “Hopefully they’re hungry. We just talk about working hard every day and let’s just see what can happen.”
A heavy-hitting schedule could earn No. 11 Braintree another invite to the Division 1A pool come February. The same goes for No. 13 Duxbury as Tucker Kelly returns between the pipes, while No. 16 Barnstable is poised to surprise this winter.
Burlington and Hingham both appear due for rebound campaigns after both suffered rebuilding years last winter. The public school powers check in at No. 17 and No. 20, respectively.
The losses of JoJo Carbone and Pat Shea (Maine) will hurt No. 19 Marshfield, but Shea’s younger brother Neil, a freshman, should prove to be a key offensive addition to the Atlantic Coast favorites.
Division 2 — Tewksbury appears to be a team of destiny in Division 2, the No. 18 Redmen returning most of their arsenal from a team that reached the North final last winter.
Ryan Petti will be the star up top, and the return of goaltender Kyle Paquette has cemented Tewksbury as the early favorite, though it will face stiff competition from Lincoln-Sudbury in the MVC/DCL.
After falling to Beverly in the state final, Medfield returns a nucleus that should keep the Warriors in contention for another sectional crown. But keep an eye on Canton. The Bulldogs reached the South final last winter before falling to Medfield, and return forwards John Femia and Matt Lazaro.
Division 3 — Defending champion Shrewsbury has the inside track at another state title as brothers Dan and Jack Quinlivan return to fuel the high-powered Colonials attack, but don’t sleep on Newton South, the Lions returning a dynamic duo of their own in Griffin Connolly and Thomas Tresca.
Reigning North champion Wayland brings back All-Scholastic Nick Morgan. State semifinalist Hanover is the team to beat in the South.