The battle to win the ultimate prize -- the Division 1A Super 8 Championship trophy -- in March at the TD Garden appears to be a two team race. Malden Catholic, the four-time defending champions, would seem ripe to be dethroned by either Springfield Cathedral or BC High.
The Panthers of Springfield Cathedral have an abundance of Division I talent that head coach Brian Foley can trot onto the ice at any given moment. '98 UMass recruit John Leonard, an invitee to last spring's USNTDP Camp, is the stud of the group, but there are five other players headed to Division I schools including '99 Riley Prattson, who's headed to Providence.
The Eagles of BC High have a top player at each position with a solid supporting cast that fills roles and executes a very defensive minded game plan.
The Eagles will be led by 2015 NHL Draft prospect Ryan Shea, an extremely poised defenseman who skates well, and who has terrific ability with the puck on his stick. As always John Flaherty's team will be a disciplined, well coached team with a defensive mindset. Shea was the object of affection for many Hockey East teams last winter, but he ultimately landed with Northeastern over the offseason.
As it has been for quite a while the majority of top end talent and high caliber teams in Massachusetts high school hockey reside within the Catholic schools. However, there will be several public school programs that could gain entry into the prestigious Super 8 field. Defending Division 1 state champion Reading is primed for another good season despite some significant losses. Fellow Middlesex League teams Burlington and Woburn should also be in the mix. Burlington has a stellar junior class to go along with a bruising defense. Woburn will have a deeper and more experienced team than last year's that uncharacteristically missed the playoffs. Watertown and Melrose also have reason for optimism in the always strong Middlesex League. Duxbury and Milton are two public schools to look out for in the southern half of the state.
Last season Division 2 Beverly flirted with the Super 8 field, but was eventually left out. The Panthers went on to win the Division 2 state championship at the TD Garden over Medfield, the South Champion. Beverly has a new coach after the retirement of Bob Gilligan. The Panthers will also be without their top three players from last season, all of whom headed off to prep school -- leading scorer Connor Irving (Tilton), top defenseman Nick Albano (Proctor) and starting goaltender Tim Biarelli (Loomis Chaffee).
With Beverly seemingly out of contention for a repeat, look for Tewksbury and North Reading, two young teams in Division 2 North last year, to make a bid for a state title at the lower level.
2014-15 Massachusetts High School Hockey Preseason Top 10
1. Springfield Cathedral
Head Coach: Brian Foley
2013-14 Record: 17-3-5
Top Returners: Forwards John Leonard (UMass), Peter Crinella (Holy Cross), D.J. Petruzzelli (Quinnipiac), Riley Prattson (Providence), Zac Prattson; Defensemen Dan Petrick (Northeastern), Bryce Peritz; Goaltender Keith Petruzzelli (Quinnipiac)
Key Losses: Goaltender John Liquori (Jr. Wolfpack, MetJHL)
Best Newcomers: Defensemen Jacob King, Ryan Crawford
With more and more kids opting for prep school and junior hockey it is increasingly rare for a high school team to have any college commitments. This year's Springfield Cathedral squad is dotted with six Division I recruits. Brian Foley's team should be able to sail through the majority of the regular season with a few exceptions of tough games against Eastern Mass foes.
UMass commit John Leonard, a USNTDP camp invitee, is the main man on offense. He's joined up front by Peter Crinella (Holy Cross), D.J. Petruzzelli (Quinnipiac) and Riley Prattson (Providence). Don't sleep on freshman Devan Tongue, who saw a lot of ice as an eighth grader last year.
The defense is the perceived weakness of Cathedral's squad, but Northeastern recruit Dan Petrick and big junior Bryce Peritz are keys to the blue line. Jacob King and Ryan Crawford are new additions to Cathedral's roster who should help out on the back end.
Quinnipiac commit Keith Petruzzelli, one of the first '99s to commit to a Division I college, will get the goaltending burden placed solely on his shoulders after sharing it last season with John Liquori who is now playing Junior B. Petruzzelli is a big goaltender with good athleticism, fundamentals and instincts.
2. BC High
Head Coach: John Flaherty
2013-14 Record: 16-3-4
Top Returners: Forwards Patrick Kramer (Merrimack), Jack Nisbet, Tim Larocque, Kayser Raei, Patrick Riley, Connor Noonan; Defenseman Ryan Shea (Northeastern), Billy Roche, Alec Flynn; Goaltender Brandon Payzant
Key Losses: Forwards Steve DeForge (Northwood Prep), Jake Lemanski; Defensemen Sam Topham (Berkshire Prep), Trevor Davis
Best Newcomers: Forwards Christian Simeone, Ian Murphy; Defensemen Jayson Dobay, Owen Schiffmann, Brendan Evitts
On paper no team in high school hockey stacks up with Cathedral, but if one team is to overcome the supposed disadvantage, it is John Flaherty's squad. The Eagles will be led by stud junior defenseman Ryan Shea, a Northeastern commit who could be playing for the Youngstown Phantoms in the USHL this winter. Jayson Dobay, Owen Schiffmann and Brendan Evitts are newcomers to the defense. Billy Roche was Shea's defensive partner much of last season in five-on-five play. He's an underrated high school blue liner.
Brandon Payzant doesn't get as much credit as he deserves due to playing in front of such a stellar defense. There were many nights last winter that Flaherty described Payzant as his best player. He had to have good focus as there were several nights where he faced very few shots.
Merrimack recruit Patrick Kramer is the key to the offense, but BC High will have plenty of depth up front. Christian Simeone has impressed in scrimmages and in an early season romp of Matignon. Select 15 standout Ian Murphy is another nice addition to the offense. Sophomore Jack Nisbet is a speedster who should see a heightened role this season.
3. Malden Catholic
Head Coach: John McLean
2013-14 Record: 20-4-0
Top Returners: Forwards Matt Filipe (Northeastern), Jake Witkowski, Jack Adams, Nick Botticelli, ; Defensemen John McLean, Will Lawrence; Goaltender Alex Reissis
Key Losses: Forwards Ara Nazarian (UNH - Des Moines/USHL), Tyler Sifferlen (UMass Lowell - Chicago/USHL), Patrick Wrenn; Defenseman Nick Rolli
Best Newcomers: Forwards Justin Collins, Joey Guarino; Defensemen Matt Ciulla, Brendan Maloney; Goaltender Brian Cannata
It's tough to put the four-time defending champs outside the top two, but John McLean's squad will have to rebuild after the losses of Ara Nazarian and Tyler Sifferlen, both Hockey East recruits currently lacing up the skates in the USHL. Ranking the Lancers third is less an indictment of them than it is a strong endorsement of the two teams above.
Northeastern commit Matt Filipe is coming off a terrific summer that saw him excel at Select 17s, a week that earned him a roster spot on the US team for the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in the Czech Republic. A strong skater who plays a powerful game, Filipe will center the team's top line with Jake Witkowski on the left and Austin Goldstein on the right, at least to start the season.
Newcomer Justin Collins, a transfer from Wilmington, will start the season as MC's second line center. On the right side on that second line will be Jack Adams, a big forward, who has reportedly made great strides since last season. His brother Mark, a senior at Providence, is property of the Buffalo Sabres.
The defense will have to make up for the loss of Nick Rolli, who graduated and is now playing Division III at Saint Anselm. However, overall the blue line will be older and more experienced than a year ago with the coach's son, John McLean, as the top defender. Senior Will Lawrence and junior Pat Harrington are dependable defenders at the high school level. Prep school transfer Matt Ciulla is a '97 who played at Dexter the past two seasons. He'll likely occupy one of the top four spots.
Senior Alex Reissis is the projected number one goaltender, but sophomore Kyle Casey will push him for playing time. Freshman Brian Cannata, the younger brother of former Merrimack backstop Joe, is listed as the third string goaltender on the depth chart.
Head Coach: Dave Spinale
2013-14 Record: 12-5-6
Top Returners: Forwards Tim Sweeney, Jon Beniers, Andrew Durkin, Trevor McQuade; Defensemen Ryan Walsh, Nick Shaw; Goaltender Aidan Murphy
Key Losses: Forwards Antonio Marini, Connor McCarthy; Defensemen Ricky Smith, Nick Colantuoni
Best Newcomers: Forwards Jared Beniers, Mike Hardman, Andrew McInerney; Defenseman Henry Bruckner
It's often said that teams need to build a team from the net out. If that's the case not too many teams should be more well prepared to handle the gauntlet that is the Catholic Conference schedule than Xaverian. Sophomore Aidan Murphy, a '98, will be one of the best goaltenders in Massachusetts high school hockey this winter. He really seemed to gain confidence during his team's playoff push last year. He's played split season midgets for the South Shore Kings organization.
Underrated senior Ryan Walsh will lead a defense tasked with protecting Murphy. He's an athletic blue liner with a hard shot and an ability to push the puck up ice. Three sophomores, Henry Bruckner, Jack Tufts and Danny Brown, join the blue line that also returns Matt McGlynn, Noah Sorrento and Nick Shaw.
Leading the way up front this season will be senior Tim Sweeney and junior Jon Beniers, two very skilled forwards who will have to carry more of the load with the graduation of Antonio Marini, who is now playing Division III with Saint Anselm.
Dave Spinale's team really has improved in recent years and will have last year's playoff push to build on for this season. A few years ago the Hawks were a program really down in the dumps, but last year's senior class began to pave the way.
5. Austin Prep
Head Coach: Louis Finocchiaro
2013-14 Record: 16-5-4
Top Returners: Forwards Eric MacAdams, Jake McKennelley, Cam Russo, Ryan McDonough, Louis Finocchiaro
Key Losses: Forward Bobo Carpenter (Boston University - Sioux City/USHL); Defensemen Andrew Cross (Avon Old Farms), J.J. Layton (Kimball Union), Brendan Leach; Goaltender Elijah Harris (Brown - Kimball Union)
Best Newcomers: Forwards Alex Maffeo, Peter Burns; Defenseman Cam Barbagallo; Goaltender Dylan Regan
Louis Finocchiaro's club has to replace several key components of last year's team that was the runner-up to Malden Catholic for a second consecutive season. The Cougars lost star forward and BU commit Bobo Carpenter to the USHL. Defensemen Andrew Cross and J.J. Layton as well as goaltender Elijah Harris have also left the program to play prep school hockey.
Leading the way will be junior captain Eric MacAdams who had a breakout week in terms of what college coaches saw in him at the USA Hockey Select 17 Festival this past summer. The Salem, Mass. native scored more than a few clutch goals last season and will be counted on to be even more of a contributor this season. AP will also heavily rely on seniors Cam Russo and Ryan McDonough to add some scoring punch.
Expected to fill the void left by Harris' departure to prep hockey is freshman Cam Regan. He played in the NE Fall Prep League and is expected to be the number one goaltender.
6. Catholic Memorial
Head Coach: Bill Hanson
2013-14 Record: 10-9-4
Top Returners: Forwards Paul Hardiman, Gunnar McKenzie, Anthony Panaggio, Aaron Clancy, Zach Sullivan; Defenseman Frank Cosolito; Goaltender Brandon Collett
Key Losses: Forwards Michael Stathopoulos, Kevin Bletzer; Defensemen Tim Weinstein, Sean Keenan
Best Newcomer: Forward Harry Morrill
The Knights have taken a step back over the past two seasons, but when push came to shove last postseason, they hung around in large part due to goaltender Brandon Collett. Now a junior, Collett will once again be the driving force behind any success that legendary coach Bill Hanson's team has this season. Collett has the ability to be a true difference maker and game changer for the Knights.
Frank Cosolito is a big, lumbering defenseman who is CM's top stay-at-home threat when he's on top of his game. The CM coaching staff is looking for the junior to use his size and strength on a more consistent basis. Declan O'Malley and Kevin Curley are other defenders who will log serious minutes for Hanson's squad.
There are no real superstars up front, but athletic senior captain Aaron Clancy is an underrated player. A big kid who also stars on the baseball diamond, Clancy does a good job driving the net and scoring goals in the dirty areas. Gunnar McKenzie, Zach Sullivan and Anthony Panaggio are expected to increase their offensive production with another year of experience under their belt. Junior Paul Hardiman is a hard working, gritty forward who is nifty with the puck on his stick and equally solid in his own zone.
7. Central Catholic
Head Coach: Mike Jankowski
2013-14 Record: 16-5-3
Top Returners: Forwards Eric Robbins, Christian Thompson, Billy Stahley; Defensemen Sean Holley, David Sheehan; Goaltender Ben Zargaj
Key Losses: Forwards Lloyd Hayes, Corey Webber, Alex Lester; Defensemen Conrad Jepson, Cam Smith; Goaltender Colin Soucy
Best Newcomers: Forwards Jake Wise (Boston University), Cameron Gendron
The Raiders will garner a lot of attention this season due to the hype surrounding freshman sensation Jake Wise, a '00 already committed to Boston University. Mike Jankowski's team lost a lot of talent from a senior laden team from a year ago, but should be able to score enough goals on most nights. Christian Thompson and Eric Robbins are the two returners most likely to factor in on the score sheet.
CC's biggest question mark, and why it comes in lower in the preseason rankings, comes in the crease where it lost Colin Soucy to graduation. Now playing for the Valley Warriors (EHL), Soucy was a big part of the team's success the last few seasons. Junior Ben Zargaj, who saw very little time as Soucy's backup last season, will get the bulk of the work in goal. Senior captains Sean Holly and David Sheehan are the top two defenders who will be tasked with protecting Zargaj and the CC net.
Head Coach: Mark Doherty
2013-14 Record: 17-8-2
Top Returners: Forwards Matt Thompson, Kevin Tobin, Mike Keough, Sean Verrier, Defenseman Mike Seibold
Key Losses: Forwards Jake Barbera, Mike Thompson, James Donaghey; Defenseman Curtis Anderson; Goaltender Ian Lapham
This ranking might prove to be a little lofty for the Rockets, but the defending state champions at the Division 1 level are a well coached team with some talent to work with. Mark Doherty, a former player at UNH, is entering his sixth season behind the bench at his alma mater after assisting his father for quite a few years.
Reading will have to make up for the loss of Jake Barbera and Mike Thompson, the team's top two scorers from a year ago. Senior Sean Verrier is a good two-way forward that played well at both ends of the ice in the post season last March. Look for sophomore Matt Thompson, Mike's younger brother, to step into an even bigger role in his second season of high school hockey.
Doherty's squad will also have to deal with the graduation of goaltender Ian Lapham, who was instrumental in the Rocket's run to the state championship last March. Sophomore Sean Dynan appears to have the inside track to fill Lapham's big skates in the crease. Senior Josh Caruso will be there to challenge Dynan for playing time.
Protecting Dynan or whoever gains control of the starting job will be senior Mike Seibold, arguably the best public school player in high school hockey this winter. He's a versatile blue liner that really started to gain attention towards the end of last season.
9. St. Mary's
Head Coach: Mark Lee
2013-14 Record: 16-5-2
Top Returners: Forwards Shawn MacBurnie, Eric Pedro, Jon Powers, Brett Molea, Dante Maribito, Jackson Allard; Defenseman Clay Yianocopolus
Key Loss: Goaltender Bailey MacBurnie (Salisbury Prep)
Obviously the Spartans will miss goaltender Bailey MacBurnie who is now plying his trade with Salisbury in prep hockey, but the cupboard isn't bare for Mark Lee's squad. St. Mary's always plays an up-tempo, aggressive style of hockey. One thing certain with a Lee coached team is that it will rarely, if ever, get out-worked.
There is a good crop of returning forwards led by MacBurnie's brother Shawn. Eric Pedro, John Powers, Brett Molea and Dante Maribito round out some of the returnees who will bolster the offense. Clay Yianocopolus is expected to be the key cog on the blue line.
10. St. John's Prep
Head Coach: Kristian Hanson
2013-14 Record: 9-10-2
Top Returners: Forwards Nick Latham, Teddy McNamara, Kyle Hentosh; Goaltender Zac Laramie
Key Losses: Forward Jim Currier, Defenseman Ean Mendeszoon (Valley Jr. Warriors/EHL)
Best Newcomers: Forward Billy Falter; Defensemen Paul Edson, Tim Tusalis; Goaltender Kyle Martin
After last season's disappointing sub 500 season St. John's Prep will look to rebound, but it will be a difficult task for the Eagles. The strength of Kristian Hanson's roster certainly appears to be in its own crease with the return of sophomore Zac Laramie who was a participant in the USA Hockey Select 16 Festival, and the addition of Kyle Martin, a transfer from Westford Academy where he was an all-star in that conference. The Eagles will be a deep team that will rely on playing a hard and gritty style while blocking shots in front of their stellar goaltending tandem.
On the Cusp: Burlington, Woburn, Duxbury, Milton, Arlington Catholic, St. John's (Shrewsbury), Melrose, Watertown
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.