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Mass District: Springfield Rifles, Cape Cod Whalers Advance to USA Hockey Nationals

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Springfield Rifles and Cape Cod Whalers won the 18U and 16U Massachusetts District Championships, respectively, over the weekend. This observer tried to take in as much of the action as possible, but due to being at college games, not as much time was spent in Marlborough as was hoped.

There wasn't enough viewing to accurately rank how players looked on the weekend, but here are some highlights and players to keep an eye on.

18U Division

The Springfield Rifles defeated the Cape Cod Whalers, 3-2, to capture the 18U Division and advance to nationals. The Rifles, coached by Kevin Kervick and assisted by Springfield Cathedral bench boss Brian Foley, were dominant throughout the tournament without a loss.

Cathedral forwards Peter Crinella (Holy Cross) and D.J. Petruzzelli (Quinnipiac) and Northfield Mt. Hermon forward Ben Freeman are the committed players on the Rifles.

Crinella is a player this observer has liked for a couple years now playing for the Panthers in the high school season. He's a physical, power forward who is very strong on pucks and has a rocket of a shot. He was a big get for Paul Pearl at Holy Cross before he left for Harvard. Crinella will be a very good forward for Dave Berard in Atlantic Hockey if he keeps to his commitment. His older brother is a very good baseball player at Merrimack so athleticism runs in the family.

Petruzzelli, a high school teammate of Crinella's, isn't overly flashy, but he's got good hands and moves well with the puck. He's a good stick handler with above average skating skills.

Freeman isn't the best skater, but he's got decent size and always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He scores a lot of garbage goals, but can also create space and opportunities with his offensive instincts.

One uncommitted player that impressed was Zac Prattson, the older brother of Providence recruit Riley. Zac is more of a gritty player who projects as a third or fourth line grinder. He's got much better size and strength, but lacks the high end skill of his younger brother.

A star of the weekend for the Rifles was Choate senior goaltender Andrew Tucci. The Toronto native came on the scene last season, earning playing time and ending up with better numbers than classmate and Yale commit Sam Tucker. Tucci is small, but he's got cat-like reflexes and vision in the crease.

The Cape Cod Whalers, coached by former BC Eagle Andrew Orpik, was probably the team to beat on paper heading into the weekend. There was no shortage of Division I talent on the roster for the Whalers.

As usual, Northeastern commit and BC High defenseman Ryan Shea stood out with his poise, skating ability and knack for doing great things with the puck on his stick. BC recruit Luke McInnis and Yale commit Bill Sweezey also patrolled the blue line for Orpik's team.

A defenseman to keep an eye on is Andrew Cross, a PG at Avon Old Farms this winter. He had a really good junior year, but wasn't as much of a standout as a senior at Austin Prep. He's got good size and mobility and makes smart decisions with the puck. He's a fringe Division I prospect, most likely a NESCAC target.

He's undersized, but '97 George Sennot continues to impress me. He's got really good hands and moves his feet. He'll put up big numbers for TIm Whitehead at KUA this winter. It wouldn't surprise me to see college coaches take a while to come around on the former Austin Prep Cougar, similar to how coaches remained skeptical on Exeter's Henry Hart until he really proved himself one tournament.

Merrimack commit Pat Kramer and Northeastern commit Lincoln Griffin each showed signs of why they'll be on a Hockey East roster in the future. Two big uncommitted forwards, Kevin Hock and Luke Stevens, continued to stay fringe prospects in my book. There has been a lot of talk about Hock over the past few years since his breakout season at Catholic Memorial, but he hasn't impressed Division I coaches on a consistent enough basis to draw serious attention yet. Stevens, a recent Yale commit and the son of BC alum and retired NHLer Kevin, is an intriguing prospect as there is pedigree and upside with his tremendous size.

Thayer junior goaltender Mike Royer was the better of the two goaltenders on the Whalers. He was solid at the Beantown Summer Classic and is a prospect to keep a close eye on as the prep season approaches.

The Boston Junior Bandits and Boston Jr. Bruins were the other two semifinalists. This writer didn't see enough or know enough about the Boston Junior Bandits roster to make an accurate statement, but Merrimack commit Logan Drevitch, playing up, showed some grit and ability to make plays.

The Jr. Bruins split-season squad has some very intriguing prospects. Quebec-born Jake Massie is a newcomer to Kimball Union. The '97 is a tall, lanky defenseman who has some upside. Another newcomer to KUA's blue line is former Austin Prep standout J.J. Layton. This observer has been very high on the Peabody, Mass. native for a while. He battled a foot injury at times this summer, but continued to get better at the USA Hockey Select 17 Festival and Beantown Summer Classic. He's a big kid who can move. He's athletic and once he learns to play within himself, he'll be even better. He might really begin to flourish under Whitehead.

Another member of KUA's blue line is Dennis Cesana of Providence. He's a good skater, but really needs to continue to prove himself in his own end if he's to find himself a Division I offer.

KUA newcomer and former high-scoring Marshfield forward Pat Shea, a Maine commit, was one of the better forwards for the Junior Bruins. Big Cushing forward and BC recruit David Cotton was another standout. Cushing goaltender Joel Daccord has good size, mobility and fundamentals in the crease. It's only a matter of time before he gets an offer, most likely from ECAC Hockey or a Hockey East team in need of a goaltender for the future.

The Neponset Valley River Rats didn't make it to the semifinals, but they were a solid group. Up front for the River Rats, Northeastern commit Jamie Armstrong and BU recruit Patrick Harper stood out, despite their opposite styles. Armstrong, a newcomer to Avon Old Farms this winter, is a big kid with a pro upside. He's got to continue to grow into his body, but he's got some obvious skill. Harper is smaller and quicker with really exciting stick skills.

Goaltenders Tim Birarelli (Loomis) and Max Prawdzik (Brooks) were good for the first two games, but suffered over the two final games due to some defensive breakdowns and facing stiffer competition.

16U Division

The Cape Cod Whalers, coached by Thayer coach and former NHLer Tony Amonte, won the 16U Division over the revitalized North Suburban Wings program. The Whalers were as dominant, if not more so than the Rifles were at the upper division.

The Whalers have a ton of players that will certainly be committed to Division I in the very near future. '99 defenseman Jack Rathbone is a can't miss talent. He's very small, but he can really skate. He's smooth and dynamic with the puck. The Dexter freshman will be the next highly sought after defensive recruit in New England.

Dexter teammates Sean Keohane and Jay O'Brien are solid players with potential upside, but are certainly not in the same category as Rathbone.

The team also had a significant Thayer presence on the roster, led by recent BC commit Monte Graham. The '98 is a prototypical BC forward with good speed, vision and hands. Two of Amonte's sons were on the roster, '98 Ty and '00 Tristan. Ty has impressed me since seeing him at the USA Hockey Select 16 Festival, but he needs to show college recruiters that he can consistently keep up in a physical setting. Another member of the Tigers, Colin McCabe, a '98 defenseman, has some very good attributes. He's a little undersized, but he's a good skater and has some poise on the blue line.

'98 Xaverian goaltender Aidan Murphy has a really quick glove and stands tall in the net. St. Seb's goaltender James Scannell is a little more frail, but he's good. Both goaltenders need to be viewed more to make a fair statement one way or the other.

A pair of '98 Rivers defensemen really stood out for the NS Wings, coached by Scott Hentosh, the father of St. John's Prep forward Kyle. Mike Gurska, a junior, had a nice weekend at both ends of the ice. He's known as more of a stay-at-home blue liner, but he chipped in offensively as well. Mike Young is a big 6'3" prospect with a lot of raw potential and upside. The Medford, Mass. native is a sophomore at Rivers.

A pair of St. John's goaltender split time in net. Kyle Martin, a transfer from Westford Academy, and returning starter Zach Laramie, are both good high school goaltenders. Laramie was invited to this past summer's Select 16 Festival, but struggled. He'll certainly be pushed for playing time this winter by Martin.

The Neponset Valley River Rats were undefeated during pool play before losing to the NS Wings in the semifinals. There was a good deal of future NCAA players on this team as well. Both goaltenders, Ryan Ferland of St. Mark's is in an impressive young goaltender with good size and athletic ability.

Lawrence Academy newcomer and Florida native Tim Kent is a small '99 who's very crafty and cuts well. He's got really good hands and can stickhandle in a phone booth.

St. Sebastian's power forward R.J. Murphy is a strong skater who is solid on the puck and reminds me somewhat of a younger Matt Filipe of Malden Catholic, a '97 committed to Northeastern, who played for the Boch Blazers at the 18U Division here.

Josh Vertentes is a transfer from St. George's who will be in his first year at Avon Old Farms this winter. He's small, but can really skate and has good stick skills. It will be interesting to see how he fares in a full season of prep hockey against better competition for the Winged Beavers.

Big Winchendon defenseman Jack Moran draws a lot of attention due to his size (6-4/215), but the top defensive prospect on the River Rats is Brian Scoville, a Cushing newcomer. He played for the Providence Capitals last season. He's got good size, physical ability and athleticism, but he can really skate for a bigger guy. He's a '99 who is probably the second best defenseman in New England at his age, only behind Rathbone. Eric Jeramiah of St. Seb's is a small defenseman, but he's got good ability with the puck on his stick and is more of an offensive defenseman.

The Jr. Bruins were the other semifinalist, led by Russian Ilya Putintsev, a '98 who will almost certainly head the major junior route. There appears to be little interest in playing NCAA, according to a source. He's got a pro shot, but his skating needs work. He's got decent hands.

Notre Dame commit Cam Burke of Boxborough, who plays for Nobles during the prep season, really flies around the ice. He's small, but he's got good hands and can maneuver around opposing defensemen.

The Springfield Rifles didn't make the semifinals, but was a team with a lot of future collegiate players on the roster. '98 Springfield Cathedral star and UMass commit John Leonard is a player who can really make scoring chances out of nothing. He can dish it out as well as finish.

Forward Riley Prattson (Providence), defenseman Daniel Petrick (Northeastern) and goaltender Keith Petruzzelli (Quinnipiac) were three more Division I committed players on the Rifles, all from Springfield Cathedral.

Devon Tongue is a freshman who played varsity as an eighth grader at Cathedral. A '99, he's uncommitted, but he showed some real good signs for the future. He's got a high hockey IQ and doesn't look out of place. Two Avon Old Farms defensemen, Ben Mirageas and Ryan Ashe, were easily the two best defenders on the Rifles.

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Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.