January 31, 2014

HS Journal: High stakes in lower divisions

By Matt Williams

They were being played hundreds of miles apart and with little regard for one another. But two games played Wednesday night in different states represented something that observers of the hockey world sometimes forget: There's great hockey outside of Division 1.

D1 teams come from the biggest schools, have the biggest following and because of their size (ie bigger player pools) tend to be the best teams. In Rhode Island and Massachusetts this week, a pair of marquee games featuring Division 2 clubs did not disappoint, and it got us thinking about the teams and players to watch in D2 across the bigger New England states.

Start in the Ocean State, where the anticipated contest between Lincoln and Cumberland ended in favor of Cumberland, 2-1, with Jake Salisbury netted his eight and ninth goals of the year. Cumberland moved to 12-0-0 on the year while Lincoln had their first loss, and it's a credit to both teams' relative strengths that both reached the late January showdown without so much as a blemish.

In Massachusetts, D2's top dog Beverly came in unbeaten and topped contender Marblehead for the third time this season. The Headers didn't sport a sterling record (10-4 coming in) because they'd already lost to Beverly twice, but the possible state tournament preview lived up the billing in a 4-3 decision. Marblehead had leads of 2-0 and 3-2 but resilient Beverly came back to remain undefeated (14-0-1).

It's particularly frustrating for Marblehead, which also led Beverly by two goals in their first meeting in December. The Panthers and ace goalie Tim Birarelli have allowed 20 goals in 15 games all season – and 10 of them have come in three games against Marblehead. Solving Beverly's defense and still coming away with losses has to hurt, but center Connor Irving (Perhaps the best player outside D1 in Massachusetts) is a handful and drives Beverly's offense.

Outside of those two teams, we're keeping an eye on Tewksbury, which played a rugged schedule and always seems tournament tested. Plymouth South could challenge in the Bay State's D2 as well.

In New Hampshire, the major Division 2 showdown is a few weeks in the making. On February 19, current unbeatens Bedford and Spaulding and scheduled to meet. Chris Viola (Bedford) and Brent Phillips (Spaulding) are tow of the leading scorers in NH D2 hockey and no doubt drive their teams in what could be a regular season title game if both teams run the table over the next two weeks.

Finally, in Connecticut, Branford and East Catholic have emerged as the top teams outside of Division 1. They're not scheduled to meet in the regular season, however, so fans might have to wait for the playoffs to see how a game between them might turn out.

Power Rankings

To see which teams Matt has in the top 10 for each of the six states in New England, head to our High School Power Rankings page.

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