West Springfield, Mass. -- With Super 8 seedings on the line, two of the top three teams in Massachusetts high school hockey square off in the Springfield Cathedral High School Tournament on Thursday evening.
Three-time defending Super 8 champion Malden Catholic takes on the host Panthers from Springfield Cathedral. Each team is loaded with talent with seven college commitments between the two teams and several more players with legitimate prospects of playing Division I.
It should be a great game, but it isn't the only game on the docket Thursday with serious postseason implications. The consolation game of the same tournament is a pivotal contest for both St. Mary's and Needham. The Spartans of SMH look to make one last statement that they deserve to be included in the Super 8 while Needham needs a win to become eligible for the Division I Tournament.
BC High and Duxbury square off in the championship game of the Buddy Ferreria Classic in Falmouth. BC High, one of the top teams in the state all season, doesn't have much on the line. John Flaherty's Eagles have lost just once all season and will undoubtedly be a top two seed when the seedings are announced. On the other hand, the Dragons of Duxbury are on the Super 8 bubble and a win over the Eagles would certainly solidify their spot.
Here are the projections heading into Thursday. This writer will update them after tonight's games. For those unfamiliar with how the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association Boy's Hockey Tournament works, the top 10 teams are put into the Super 8 with two play-in games (7 vs. 10, 8 vs. 9) deciding the seventh and eighth spots. The two losers of the play-in games are relegated to the Division I Tournament.
The top three teams are in a class by themselves, and the top seven schools are pretty safe. The last three spots are totally up for grabs, and no one knows for sure the decision thinking of the committee.
1. Malden Catholic (16-3-0)
The three-time defending Super 8 champions have been hitting on all cylinders lately, having scored 32 goals in its last four games. The Lancers have an eight game winning streak heading into Thursday's big clash against Springfield Cathedral.
2. BC High (14-1-4)
The Eagles are the most disciplined and well-coached team in the state and have a slew of Division I prospects, including Merrimack commit Patrick Kramer who has really stepped into the limelight over the past month. Sophomore defenseman Ryan Shea is one of the most coveted blue liners in the region due to his tremendous poise and vision.
3. Springfield Cathedral (14-2-5)
The Panthers probably have the most talent of any team in the state, and it's a young group. Goaltender John Liquori is the only senior on the team. Four players are already committed to Division I schools, and eighth grader Devon Tongue and freshmen Riley Prattson and Dan Petrick won't be far behind.
4. Austin Prep (13-4-4)
The Cougars have battled the injury bug for much of the season, and are a step behind the top three teams, but are always dangerous, especially with Elijah Harris between the pipes. Everyone knows about BU recruit Bobo Carpenter, but defensemen Andrew Cross and J.J. Layton are good prospects on the blue line.
5. Central Catholic (14-3-3)
The Raiders have been used to being the underdogs, having to fight through play-in games in recent years, but Mike Jankowski's team will be a known commodity this time around. Central doesn't have the hot prospects of some of the other teams, but from top to bottom, it is a well-conditioned club that can skate with almost anyone. Seniors Lloyd Hayes, Corey Webber and Alex Lester are the offensive catalysts while classmate Colin Soucy can be a game-stopper between the pipes.
6. Xaverian (11-3-6)
The Hawks had a good season led by senior Antonio Marini and junior Tim Sweeney. Dave Spinale's team made an emphatic statement in its final game of the season, a 9-2 victory over fellow Super 8 hopeful St. John's Shrewsbury.
7. Catholic Memorial (9-6-4)
Graduation losses and players leaving for junior hockey depleted Bill Hanson's team, but the Knights have a terrific goaltender in Brandon Collett. CM is 0-5-2 in the month of February, including consecutive lopsided losses against BC High and MC last week.
8. Archbishop Williams (11-5-3)
The Bishops started the season on fire, including a victory over Springfield Cathedral in the second game of the season. In between were some tough, hard-fought losses against other teams in contention, but Derackk Curtis' team is 3-0-1 over its last four.
9. Arlington Catholic (13-6-1)
Veteran head coach Dan Shine won his 500th game earlier this season, and the Cougars had a successful season overall, but a poor finish will leave the team on the fence when the committee meets on Saturday. Senior goalie John Richard is the backbone of a team with several good underclassmen up front.
10. St. Mary's (13-6-2)
The Spartans have tied Austin Prep twice and have as competent of a goaltender as any club in the running for the bottom few spots. Senior Bailey MacBurnie has a quick glove and takes up much of the net, but lopsided losses against MC and BC High could hurt the team's chance of making the Super 8.
Others in contention: Duxbury (14-2-3), Braintree (12-4-3), St. John's Shrewsbury (10-5-7)
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.