At the beginning of each season, high school hockey teams across the state dream of playing at the TD Garden come the third Sunday in March.
Two teams will see that dream become reality Wednesday night while two others will be done for the season. The top four seeds have all advanced to the 2016 MIAA Super 8 Semifinals at the Tsongas Center on the campus of UMass Lowell, but only two can move on to Sunday's championship game in Boston.
Malden Catholic, winners of four consecutive Super 8 titles before last season, face Pope Francis, formerly known as Springfield Cathedral, in the evening's first semifinal at 5:30 p.m. Catholic Conference rivals BC High and St. John's Prep meet in the nightcap at approximately 7:30 p.m. BC High, the No. 1 seed, will have the chance to knock off the defending champs who upset them in last year's tournament.
No. 2 Pope Francis (17-3-2) vs. No. 3 Malden Catholic (16-4-3)
The two programs that have arguably had the most talent over the past few seasons will meet for a spot in the final, but both teams will have considerably less high end players than they have had in recent years.
Pope Francis downed Malden Catholic, 3-2, when the two teams met at the Cathedral Hockey Classic on the last week of the regular season.
The Cardinals are a younger team, led by junior forward Riley Prattson (Providence) and junior defenseman Dan Petrick (Northeastern). Junior forward Cam Peritz is undersized, but he's quick and crafty, and has benefited from playing alongside Prattson. Sophomore Devon Tongue, a late '99 in his third year of varsity, is a player to keep an eye on as he matures and develops. Freshmen Joey Salvon and sophomore Jacob King provide depth on the blue line. Look for freshman Zach Roncarti to get the start in net.
For the Lancers, it is the first time in a long time that they do not have a committed player on their roster. Seniors Nick Botticelli, Cam Walter and Corey Goldstein and juniors Sean Wrenn, Tom Albert and Justin Collins are the catalysts for the offense. Senior Pat Harrington is a fairly good mobile defenseman who could be a nice addition for a Division III school down the line. Sophomore Brian Cannata, the younger brother of Merrimack alum Joe Cannata, is the projected starter.
Prediction: Pope Francis wins, 4-3.
No. 1 BC High (19-1-3) vs. No. 4 St. John's Prep (16-2-4)
The battle of the Eagles takes place for a third time this season with a ticket to the final given to the winner. BC High won the regular season series, 1-0-1, with a 1-1 tie and 6-2 win. Both teams have senior goaltenders that can be difference makers, especially the Prep's Kyle Martin, who was the team's MVP a year ago.
BC High has a very good first line, centered by freshman Thomas Kramer, the younger brother of Merrimack commit Pat Kramer of the Youngstown Phantoms. Ian Murphy is a speedster on the right wing and senior Kayser Raei is creative and just finds the score sheet on the left side.
Senior Billy Roche and sophomore Jayson Dobay are the team's top two defensemen. Roche is a steadying presence on the blue line while Dobay is a mobile, offensive-minded defenseman with a cannon of a one-timer.
Kyle Hentosh and Kyle Lynch lead the way offensively for St. John's, who has two fairly solid and balanced lines. The team's defense is very good and forwards and defensemen both buy in. The top prospect on the Prep is sophomore defenseman Paul Edson. He's a big defenseman that has a good first step and gets on pucks quickly.
Prediction: Martin leads St. John's Prep to a 3-2 win.
Top Uncommited Prospects
For college and prep coaches and USHL scouts heading to tonight's games, the top 5 prospects are:
'99 Ian Murphy, Jr., RW, BC High
'99 Jayson Dobay, Soph., LD, BC High
'99 Paul Edson, Soph., LD, St. John's Prep
'99 Devon Tongue, Soph., LW, Pope Francis