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SUPER 8 PREVIEW

Malden Catholic to begin its title defense in nightcap

By Craig Forde
Globe Correspondent / March 4, 2012
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The MIAA will drop the puck on the 22d annual Division 1A boys’ hockey tournament today at Merrimack College’s Lawler Arena.

The opening of Super 8 play features all teams in action, with the first of four games starting at noon and the last set to begin at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $12 per game, $7 for seniors and children, and free parking will be available.

The following is a preview of the first-round games, which feature a couple of intriguing rematches that should set the tone.

No. 5 seed BC High (10-5-5) vs. No. 4 Hingham (16-4-2), noon - The squads met two weeks ago in the Cape Cod Classic and battled to a 1-1 tie before the Eagles won in a shootout. These are teams that are very defensive minded, which should lead to another low-scoring affair. As with any team in the Super 8 tournament, goaltending will be a key component to advancing. BC High junior netminder Peter Cronin boasts a solid Super 8 résumé after helping to lead the Eagles to the crossover round last season before losing to Malden Catholic in the semifinals. The Harbormen might be toting one of the most underrated goalies in John Grenier, who has five shutouts to back his 1.88 goals against average. Hingham’s James Gordon (22 goals), Matt Hughes (13), and Matt Brazel (11) provide solid offensive options across two lines. BC High captains Matt Sullivan and Brian Furey bring a level-headed leadership that is necessary for a team with only four seniors. After trips to Fenway Park and the Prudential Center in New Jersey, the Eagles yearn to play on another big stage this season, while the Harbormen carry the hopes of public schools firmly on their shoulders.

No. 7 Central Catholic (13-3-5) vs. No. 2 St. Mary’s (18-1-3), 2:15 - The Raiders were impressive for much of their play-in game against Burlington last Monday. They threw bruising hits and they scored in bunches, thanks to a Michael Kelleher hat trick. Minus a one-minute segment during which they allowed three goals, their defense and goalie Kyle Williams were admirable in the face of a Red Devils comeback. The Spartans will be looking to stop Central Catholic’s momentum, and getting off to a quick start will be important. St. Mary’s sophomore goalie Bailey MacBurnie brings a 1.30 goals against average, which is the best of any starting goalie in the Super 8. The Spartans had a plus-66 goal differential in the regular season, thanks to a staunch defense led by Nikko Markham and five skaters who accumulated 20 or more points. The Raiders don’t bring a ton of firepower to the party, but as they showed everyone Monday, they are capable of piling up goals, which is something the Spartans will need to prepare for.

No. 6 Springfield Cathedral (10-6-6) vs. No. 3 St. John’s Prep (13-5-2), 4:45 - Like the opening game of the day, this is a rematch of a Feb. 18 tie, albeit one that Springfield Cathedral would rather forget. After taking a 5-1 lead deep into the third period, the Panthers allowed four goals in the final five minutes. Sam Kurker accounted for two goals that game, including the equalizer with 17 seconds remaining. Springfield Cathedral will have to clamp down on the Boston University-bound senior and his talented linemates if they wish to improve on the final result. The Eagles’ offense has been soaring of late, potting 30 goals in their last six games. Senior goalie David Letarte, who was pulled from the Feb. 18 game, has been touch and go of late for Prep, but is one of the most dangerous pieces in the Super 8 if he is hot. The Panthers benefit from balance as 18 skaters have scored this season and eight players have a double-digit point total. Defensively, Cullen Geary and Matt Foley usually see the bulk of the work against the opponent’s top line, so they will be vital to Springfield Cathedral’s success.

No. 8 St. John’s (Shrewsbury) (15-4-3) vs. No. 1 Malden Catholic (15-1-4), 7 - Kevin Emmerling (26 goals) and Vin D’Amato (24) showed off their talents in the Pioneers’ play-in game against Needham on Monday. Now they will be tasked with being the first team to take on the defending champion Lancers, who have a couple of 20-goal scorers of their own in Brendan Collier (22) and Ryan Fitzgerald (26). Junior defensemen Colin McGillivray and Brendan White make Malden Catholic’s interior tough to penetrate, as evident by their 10 goals allowed in the last eight games. Junior goaltender Connor Maloney has showed steady improvement throughout the season for Malden Catholic, securing what was once a concern. For St. John’s, goalie Mario Pizzeri has been on the same path, posting three shutouts in the last eight games after a slow start to the season. The Pioneers’ defense has also done a better job at clearing out in front of Pizzeri, cutting down on screened shots that were getting by earlier in the season. The Lancers run full speed for 45 minutes and can roll out three solid lines all night long. The Pioneers will need to match that intensity if they wish to stay in this one.

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