Despite being located some 90 miles away, Springfield Cathedral would like nothing more than to endure a two-hour bus ride to play at TD Garden. Unlike years past, a Super 8 tournament berth will get coach Brian Foley and his squad their time on Causeway Street, but the greater goal is to take a few laps around the ice two weeks later, Division 1A trophy in hand.
To compete against the state’s best the Panthers have to schedule the state’s best, and that’s no easy feat. Trips to Boston and Hyannis, Tewksbury and Lawrence are required to lace up against some of the state’s elite teams — and to be considered one of the state’s elite teams.
Scheduling the best teams in Massachusetts is a demanding process that preludes a more taxing season, but for Foley and Co., there’s no better way to position the Panthers for a shot at a state championship.
“We’re always trying to play the top teams in the state,” said Foley. “We try to make the schedule as hard as possible. We call everybody trying to get games. By the time tournament comes around, we’ve seen pretty much most of the top teams. We’re prepared. We’re not really playing anybody that we haven’t seen come tournament time.
“I think no matter what sport you’re playing, the tougher schedule you play in the regular season is going to help you in the postseason.”
As has been the case the last five seasons in Springfield, the Panthers have found more success than failure in their loaded schedules. A trio of Division 1 college commits, juniors D.J. Petruzzelli (17-25—42) and Peter Crinella (20-23—43), and sophomore Johnny Leonard (22-13—35), have accounted for 59 of the Panthers’ 98 goals, making No. 5 Springfield Cathedral (12-2-4) the highest-scoring team in Division 1.
But what makes the Panthers truly elite is that those three players make up only a piece of the story.
While the schedule itself promotes the Panthers’ Super 8 case come the end of the regular season, it is the youth who have benefited most from their baptism by fire, especially this season. Case in point is freshman Riley Prattson of Tolland, Conn. A 5-foot-8-inch, 150-pound forward, Prattson has jelled perfectly with Petruzzelli and Crinella on the top line, muscling his way to 10 goals and 21 assists as a right wing on the highest-scoring line in the state.
“Riley is a special player,” Foley said. “There’s no doubt he’s a Division 1 college player. From Day 1, from the first day of tryouts, he’s had a lot of energy, a lot of speed, a lot of passion. He doesn’t play like a freshman. He’s not intimidated by anybody, and he’s having a great year for us.”
But it isn’t just Prattson who is thriving against the top teams in the state. Springfield’s third line consists of Cam Peritz (8-9—17), Devan Tongue (6-3—9), and Tim Zmuda (2-2—4), all of whom are in their first year wearing the Panther purple. Peritz and Zmuda are freshmen, while Tongue has earned a chunk of playing time as an eighth-grader.
On the blue line, freshman Dan Petrick has a pair of goals to go with his 20 assists, the fourth-highest total on the team.
Behind them all stands the sage of the squad — John Liquori — who has seen his fair share of hockey for the Panthers. The three-year starting goaltender is the team’s lone senior and is hoping to make his third appearance in the Super 8.
Manning the crease is Liquori’s primary job, but so is ushering in the Panthers’ goaltender of the future in Keith Petruzzelli. A 6-5, 160-pound freshman, Petruzzelli committed to Quinnipiac with his brother D.J. before he even made the varsity coming out of tryouts. While backing up Liquori, he has shown flashes of his promise, including a 3-0 shutout of Hingham Feb. 1.
Though his talent is evident, Keith Petruzzelli will likely take a back seat to Liquori come tournament time. If there’s one thing youth lacks, it’s experience.
“Nothing replaces experience, and he’s been our starting goaltender in the Super 8 for the last two years,” Foley said. “That’s our goal again, to get there, and if we’re lucky enough to qualify for that and we’re playing, it will be helpful to pull from his experience in the previous two tournaments.”
The Panthers head into the homestretch with more daunting matchups on the horizon, including dates with St. John’s Prep, and either three-time defending Super 8 champion Malden Catholic or St. Mary’s of Lynn in the final round of the Springfield Cathedral Tournament in two weeks.
Any young team can find its collective conscience wandering come the end of the season, but Foley is confident that should his team focus on what is in front of it, a few laps around the Garden ice is within reach for the Panthers.Continued...