January 16, 2014

HS Journal: St. John's Prep reloaded, clawing for points

By Matt Williams

Evan Leclerc (25) and the Eagles, who battled Malden Catholic at Frozen Fenway, have a big test on the horizon with a showdown against BC High this Saturday. (Photo by Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

The highest level of high school hockey in Massachusetts can be an unforgiving place. The great thing about the Bay State is that all the best teams seem to play each other, regularly. There aren't many clubs that pad their resumes and avoid other big dogs.

The downside of that is that sometimes, the great teams can eat each other alive.

Take for example St. John's Prep of Danvers. The Eagles are 4-4-1, and they've already taken on the mantra that they're fighting for their postseason lives. The Prep graduated a boatload of seniors from last year's Super 8 top-seed, and lost two other forwards to prep school.

The Eagles have reloaded. Forwards like Jimmy Currier and Mark Etherington are producing alongside youngsters like Kyle Lynch. St. John's has an excellent defensive corps led by Division 1 recruit Ean Mendeszoon. Fellow captain Evan Leclerc, Connor Murray and Dylan Lemieux give the Eagles an all-senior top four on D, and it's a group that's good in its own end and also adept at getting shots through from the point.

Still, the difficulty of their schedule didn't leave a lot of room for growing pains. Teams in Massachusetts must have records of .500 or better (20 points in 20 games) to qualify for the playoffs. St. John's is exactly on pace with nine points in nine games.

“We need every point we can get,” Eagles coach Kristian Hanson said after his team beat crosstown rival Danvers Monday night. “We're battling to get in, and we know every point is huge. You look at our schedule, and five of our last six games and they've all been against top five teams. Night in and night out we have to battle.”

That continues Saturday when the Prep hosts No. 1 BC High in the annual Derek Hines Memorial Game, which honors a former St. John's and Army hockey captain. The Eagles have been a very good second half team in recent years, racking up a 35-7-3 records from the Hines game forward over the last three seasons.

“That's a really important game for us. Very emotional and something we have a lot of pride in as a program,” Hanson said.

The Prep has played some of the top teams in Mass tight, with a close loss to Malden Catholic at Fenway. They had the lead on Central Catholic at home, and were tied after two with Catholic Memorial. Their reputation and schedule are such that if they get 20 points, they may garner a Super 8 play-in invitation (four clubs battle in two one-game playoffs for the last two Super 8 quarterfinal berths).

Does the way St. John's has played against contenders give the team confidence it can get over the hump and finish off some of these close games as wins?

“I hope we think like that,” Hanson said. “If we get in we have to think can beat anybody. We're right there, we're on the cusp. What we have to do it correct some of the mistakes we make continuously, move our feet, make smart plays with the puck, and make simple plays instead of being cute.

“There's a lot of things we can improve on to help us turn that corner.”

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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