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Boys' Hockey preview

MC in line for Super 8 crown

With Ryan Fitzgerald (above), Mike Vecchione, and Brendan Collier, top-seeded Malden Catholic will be hard to beat when the Super 8 hockey tournament begins Saturday at Merrimack College. With Ryan Fitzgerald (above), Mike Vecchione, and Brendan Collier, top-seeded Malden Catholic will be hard to beat when the Super 8 hockey tournament begins Saturday at Merrimack College. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Jake Seiner
Globe Correspondent / February 27, 2011

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There was debate, deliberation, and one bracket-changing speech at yesterday’s Super 8 selection meeting at the MIAA headquarters in Franklin, but in the end, no surprises atop the tournament seedings.

Malden Catholic was unanimously selected as the Super 8’s top seed, not surprising considering the Lancers’ dominant 16-2-2 romp through one of the state’s toughest schedules.

The squad is favored mostly on the strength of its Hockey East-bound top line, comprised of Mike Vecchione (UNH), Brendan Collier (BU), and Ryan Fitzgerald (BC). The threesome has combined for more than 65 goals and 175 points on the season, helping MC score an average of 6.15 goals per game.

The next three seeds were all decided unanimously. St. John’s Prep, fresh off Friday’s win over Catholic Memorial that eliminated the Knights from playoff contention, will play from the two seed.

BC High returns to the tournament after a one-year hiatus, and does so as the three seed, putting three Catholic Conference teams into the tournament for the third straight year.

Weymouth earned unanimous fourth-seed honors in its first Super 8 visit since 2007. The Wildcats are driven by a lethal top line highlighted by skilled speedsters Tyler Piacentini and Riley Flanagan.

Defending champion Hingham slid in at number five. The squad is the only one to legitimately beat Malden Catholic this year — the Lancers forfeited a 5-1 win over Weymouth in December after coach Chris Serino realized he had dressed an ineligible player.

The vote for the sixth seed — the last seed guaranteed a spot in round-robin play— came down to the wire. Three teams received consideration in the final round of voting, but Needham came out on top with the required four-of-seven votes.

The Rockets earned the six-spot despite initially being voted out of the Super 8 field. In the first round of voting, the selection committee voted 4-3 against Needham as a team to consider for further rounds of voting.

Paul Podolski, the Dedham hockey coach and voting representative for the Massachusetts High School Coaches Association, had nominated the Rockets, and asked the committee to re-evaluate its stance after the vote.

Podolski made his best pitch for the Rockets, pointing to recent victories over Weymouth, Central Catholic, and Springfield Cathedral, as well as ties against Hingham and BC High.

The committee re-voted, and pushed Needham into the next round of consideration in unanimous fashion.

“Paul really went to bat for us,” Needham coach Bill Guisti said. “Paul’s a Bay State League guy. It’s great that we’re in the top six, and Paul did a great job standing up for us.”

Podolski also made a pitch for Weymouth at the four-spot, helping the Bay State send two squads to the Super 8 for the first time.

The seven and eight seeds will be determined by play-in games tomorrow. The first game, slated for 6 p.m. at Chelmsford Arena in Billerica, will pit Woburn — making its first appearance since 2007 — against Springfield Cathedral. Then, at 8 p.m., Central Catholic will take on St. Mary’s, which has never played in a Super 8 tournament.

Central Catholic shared the Merrimack Valley Conference/Dual County League title with Billerica, which was the last team out despite winning the season series with Central Catholic, 1-0-1. Also missing the cut was St. John’s (S) and Austin Prep, which received nominations but didn’t get past the first round of voting.

Prediction: It’s no secret Malden Catholic is a heavy favorite in this year’s field. But it’s easy to forget that last year, Catholic Memorial was looked upon in much the same way, and couldn’t hold off Hingham in the title game.

A number of teams have proven this year they can at least keep things close against MC, including St. John’s Prep, BC High, Hingham, St. Mary’s, and Needham.

Division 1 The losers of the Super 8 play-in games will retreat to the Division 1 tournament and play on as the top seeds in their respective regional brackets. Three of the four play-in teams would fall into the D1 North bracket.

Anxiously awaiting their arrival will be Arlington Catholic, which won the Division 1 title last year over Catholic Central Large rival Archbishop Williams. The CCL figures to be a player in the North again this year, with AC, Austin Prep, and potentially St. Mary’s all among the favorites.

Middlesex League standouts Reading, Winchester, and Wakefield are also likely to compete for the North crown, as is St. John’s (S).

In the South, Marshfield will be the top seed if Springfield Cathedral advances in the Super 8. The Rams dropped out in the South semifinals to the Archies last year, but with victories over Duxbury and Xaverian and a tie against Hingham on their resume, look like a team to beat.

Barnstable has quietly put together a superb season, and might’ve garnered more Super 8 attention if not for a weak out-of-conference schedule.

Prediction: The losing Super 8 play-in teams would all be strong favorites in their respective brackets, but among the teams left over, Austin Prep, St. John’s (S), and Marshfield are the most talented.

Division 2 It’s a good bet somebody from the Cape Ann League will represent the North bracket in Division 2 yet again, with league champion and North Sectional No. 1 seed Wilmington and last year’s champs Newburyport among the strongest contenders.

The CAL’s toughest tests will likely come out of the Northeastern Conference, where Beverly, Winthrop, and Peabody all boast strong squads.

Meanwhile, in the South bracket, Canton — the defending EMass Division 2 champs — is again among the contenders despite losing 13 graduating seniors as well as offensive superstar Kevin Rooney to transfer. Hockomock-rivals Franklin and Mansfield, the South’s top seed, figure to provide a challenge to the Bulldogs’ repeat aspirations, as does Plymouth South.

Prediction: Wilmington might’ve taken the CAL title, but Newburyport won the season series 1-0-1, and should represent the North, while any of the Hockomock squads could realistically take the South and the D2 title.

Division 3 Last year, Scituate rode goaltender Jamie Murray’s hot hand all the way to the state finals before losing to Longmeadow. Murray has since graduated, but the Sailors are again among the favorites in the Division 3 South bracket, despite entering as the 17th seed. Westwood — backed by a 13-1 Tri-Valley League record — along with top seed Bourne, Pembroke, Abington/East Bridgewater, and Medfield all top the list of other serious South contenders.

Up North, defending champ Marblehead again figures to be a major player, as do top-seeded Shawsheen, Dracut, and Lowell. Shawsheen lost in the 2009 state final to Shrewsbury.

The Central-West teams will have something to say about this as well. Hudson is the Central’s top seed at 18-2 while Longmeadow leads the West at 15-4-1.

Prediction: Westwood will be tough to beat, but Shawsheen’s Joe Sodergren and Mike DiGiorgio might be too much to handle at the TD Garden.