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.
“We have to just take it one game at a time and I think we’ll do well,’’ said Foley. “Then hopefully, at the end of the year, our record will speak for itself and the committee will pick us where they feel fit. We feel good about our chances at this point. We’ve just got to keep moving forward and working hard.’’
Westford tallies 59
If any proof is needed to show that goaltending is the backbone of a hockey team’s success, look no further than Kyle Martin’s performance Saturday night.
A sophomore for Westford Academy, Martin had a career night against fifth-ranked Springfield Cathedral. Facing the highest-scoring offense in Division 1, Martin tallied 59 saves as Westford earned a 3-3 tie, marking only the second time this season a visitor has left the Olympia Center without a loss.
Martin’s efforts gave the Grey Ghosts their third tie in their last six games. Westford tied Billerica, 5-5, on Thursday, in addition to a 2-2 tie with No. 8 Central Catholic Jan. 22
Page in the record books
A pair of assists in Thursday’s 5-0 shutout of Revere ushered in Winthrop’s Chris Page as the state’s newest member of the 100-point club.
Page became the first Viking to reach the milestone since current Merrimack forward and Ottawa Senators draftee Chris LeBlanc reached the plateau in 2011-12. That season, LeBlanc posted a 24-22—46 scoring line in leading the Vikings to the Division 2 North final.
A senior, Page is second in the Northeastern Conference with a line of 18-17—35 through 17 games. Winthrop sits in second in the Northeastern North with a 7-3-0 record, 12-5-0 overall.
Beverly last of the unbeatens
Thanks to Malden Catholic’s 3-1 victory over BC High, Beverly now stands as the state’s lone remaining unbeaten squad. The Panthers are 16-0-1 and have only two losses since the start of last season.
Shriners lineup announced
This past week, the Massachusetts State Hockey Coaches Association, in conjunction with the Shriners and the Worcester Sharks, announced the details of the fourth annual High School All-Star Classic, to be held March 22 at the DCU Center in Worcester.
The Shriners Hockey Classic games, which feature the top boys’ and girls’ senior hockey players from across the state, will serve as a prelude to the Sharks’ game against the Hershey Bears that afternoon.
Here is the roster for the boys’ game:
Anthony CalabroDNewton NorthAndrew CrossDAustin PrepJim CurrierFSt. John’s PrepJon-Luke DeeDArlington CatholicJay DrapeauFWestford AcademyMatt FlynnFDanversBrian GogginDArlington CatholicBrendan GreeneFWinchesterMarc HappyFWachusettLloyd HayesFCentral CatholicConnor IrvingFBeverlyBrendan LeachDAustin PrepJohn LiquoriGSpringfield CathedralBailey MacBurnieGSt. Mary’s (Lynn)Cam MacDonaldFWestford AcademyEan MendeszoonDSt. John’s PrepChris PageFWinthropChris PriceDSt. Mary’s (Lynn)Griffin RegaFLowell CatholicNolan RedlerFWinchesterNick RolliDMalden CatholicTyler SifferlenFMalden CatholicColin SoucyGCentral CatholicBrendan SullivanGDartmouthMichael ThomsonFReadingMike VadalaFPeabody
Tyson AraujoFMartha’s VineyardJohn CarlsonDHinghamDavid CataldoFMarshfieldPat ColpoysFHinghamJoseph CorreiaFDartmouthSteve DeForgeFBC HighCory GorovitzFFraminghamJoe HarringtonDBraintreeAl LynchGFraminghamLiam ManningDMarshfieldAntonio MariniFXaverianNick MarroccoFDuxburyBryan NelsonDSt. John’s (S)Trevor O’BrienFDuxburyJake PaulGBrooklineMario PizzeriGSt. John’s (S)Alex RadcliffeDBrocktonKyle SawyerDHudsonJack SheehanFNorwoodRicky SmithDXaverianMichael SorentiFArchbishop WilliamsRobbie SouzaFFalmouthSam TophamDBC HighTrevor TrudeauGRocklandNick WardFBraintree
Games of the Week
Wilmington at No. 1 Malden Catholic, Monday, 7:10 p.m. — The two-time defending Division 2 champion Wildcats, who made the jump to Division 1 this season, will face their greatest litmus test to date as the travel to Valley Forum II to take on the three-time defending Super 8 champion Lancers.
No. 19 Marshfield at No. 20 Barnstable, Wednesday, 5 p.m. — A night after taking on their stiffest competition for the Atlantic Coast title in Plymouth South, the Rams will have the formidable task of trying to emerge from Kennedy Memorial Skating Rink with at least a point. Opponents this season are 1-8-2 on the Red Raiders’ home ice.
No. 15 Beverly at Mansfield, Wednesday, 7 p.m. — Only three games separate the Panthers from a regular season without a loss, and with sub-.500 teams Peabody and Weymouth on the horizon, the Hornets may be Beverly’s toughest regular-season opponent remaining.
No. 5 Catholic Memorial at No. 2 BC High, Wednesday, 7 p.m. — The Eagles will be looking to get back to their winning ways against their archrivals after BC High dropped its first game of the season Saturday to No. 1 Malden Catholic. BC High took the first meeting with the Knights, 4-1, on Feb. 3 in the Ed Wright Memorial Game.
No. 9 Winchester at Reading, Wednesday, 7:45 p.m. — The Sachems have rattled off five wins in a row to take the pole position in the Middlesex Liberty, but close behind are the Rockets, who have won four of their last five and sit within a point of Winchester for Liberty bragging rights. A win for the visitors would give Winchester the Liberty crown.
No. 13 Melrose at No. 17 Watertown, Saturday, 11:30 a.m. — With a game in hand and a point clear of Melrose for the Middlesex Freedom’s top spot, a win Saturday for the host Raiders would cement their improbable run to the Freedom crown. Watertown took the first meeting, 2-1, on Jan. 16 at Kasabuski Rink in Saugus.