The Super 8 opens this weekend with the first games of the best-of-three series being played all day Sunday at TD Garden. Here's what to watch in each series:
BC High vs. Xaverian: The Eagles were at the top of our Massachusetts rankings for all but a couple of weeks this winter, but they actually draw a familiar foe in their Catholic Conference rivals. The Hawks tied BC High, 2-2, in the team's first meeting and the Eagles came back with a 5-1 win.
The X-Men had to beat Archbishop Williams, 6-5, in two overtimes in the Super 8 play-in while BC High has been resting and practicing since last weekend. Xaverian's Tony Marini is one of the most dangerous scorers in the Bay State, and BC High will know where he is at all times. Still, the Eagles have proven too stingy defensively and too stingy in all three zones.
The pick: BC High in two
Malden Catholic vs. Catholic Memorial: Another series between Catholic Conference rivals. The Lancers have been rolling most of the year, while CM was playing so poorly after their loss at Yankee Stadium a few weeks ago that many pundits had them out of the Super 8. Instead, the Knights got a play-in game against Braintree, and they won it in somewhat controversial fashion when the Wamps had a puck that looked to be in the net called no-goal early on.
Whatever the case, a CM team granted new life seems dangerous, and tough to overlook, even against a team as deep and talented as MC. Lancer leader Ara Nazarian, a UNH commit, is up to 47 points on the year and his linemate, Umass-Lowell commit Tyler Sifferlen, has 42. There's not a better 1-2 punch in the tournament, and we think that's more than enough to put the Lancers in the semis again.
MC pounded CM 11-0 on Feb. 14, and the bitter taste of that game might help the Knights steal a game, however.
The pick: MC in three
Springfield Cathedral vs. Duxbury: A battle between two of the state's hottest teams is on tap in this series. The Dragons stormed into the field in last two weeks, and while Springfield was a good bet for the Super 8 most of the year, they certainly improved their standing and nearly garnered a top-2 seed with their kick down the stretch.
The Panthers have balanced scoring. They have excellent goaltending. They look like a real threat to win this tournament.
The pick: Springfield Cathedral in two
Austin Prep vs. Central Catholic: The most intriguing of the first-round series. There's a ton of talent on the ice here, and on paper it looks like the most difficult series to predict.
The Cougars might be the more complete team. The defense is excellent, with JJ Layton and Andrew Cross among the leaders. Bobo Carpenter has become absolutely dynamic on offense and Ryan McDonough and Cam Russo are dangerous. Elijah Harris is one of the state's true big-game goalies.
Of course, Central has their own big-game goalie in Colin Soucy. If both Soucy and Harris are in the zone, who knows what it'll take to score. Lloyd Hayes had a tremendous year for Central and Alex Lester and Corey Webber are can pass and score too.
Central went 6-0-1 to end the year after falling, 3-2, to Austin Prep in their last regular season loss.
The teams looks even just about all over the ice, but we like AP's defense a little bit better.
The pick: Austin Prep in 3
Biggest upset: We'll go with Arlington taking down St. John's Prep in the first round of the Division 1 North tournament in Massachusetts. The Spy Ponders were the higher seed, but the Eagles entered the tournament 7-2-1 in non-league action and were a popular pick to win Division 1.
Enter Arlington goalie Mike Schiller, who came off the bench in the second period as his team rotates goaltenders in “starter” and “closer” roles. Schiller made 28 saves, including 20 in the third period alone, to help the Spy Ponders blank the Prep, 1-0, in a shutout he shared with Ryan Cote.
Ironically, the Spy Ponders will look to slay back-to-back St. John's, as they face St. John's Shrewsbury in the quarters.
Other notable upsets: Thornton Academy taking down Biddeford in Class A in Eastern Maine opened our eyes. In Vermont, North Country took down BFA St. Albans to advance to the Metro Division semifinals.
Stick salute: Tewksbury/Methuen girls hockey junior Amanda Conway's season ended when her top-seeded club lost, 7-5, in a wild game against Sandwich in the opener of the Division 2 girls tournament in Massachusetts. It was an incredible season to remember for Conway, who scored 63 goals and 81 points in 21 games --- an average of nearly four points per game. She broke Mass's single season goal scoring record, which dated back to 2003, and has the second highest point total on record in the Bay State.