LOWELL -- Two spots in Sunday's Super 8 final at the TD Garden are on the line Thursday night in the semifinals of Massachusetts high school hockey's premier tournament at the Tsongas Center.
Both semifinals are rematches of late regular season matchups, an interesting anecdote when discussing which teams are likely to move on to Sunday's 3:15 p.m. championship tilt.
No. 2 Malden Catholic vs. No. 3 Springfield Cathedral
Thursday's first semifinal is the game more likely to see offensive fireworks as the two teams possess some serious offensive firepower. Each team has three forwards already committed to Division I schools, a position of strength for both clubs.
Springfield Cathedral came away with a 5-2 victory between the two squads in the regular season finale -- the championship game of the Cathedral Hockey Classic. Peter Crinella and Johnny Leonard each scored twice while D.J. Petruzzelli added a highlight reel goal of his own.
Malden Catholic is the three-time defending state champion, and outside of sophomore Matt Filipe, the team's best players are all upperclassmen. Forward Tyler Sifferlen, playing tonight in his future collegiate home at UMass Lowell, has the chance with two more victories to lead his senior class to a state championship in each of his four seasons.
Sifferlen and UNH recruit Ara Nazarian, a junior, have been terrific in this tournament. The pair have really shown offensive creativity. Their experience shines through, especially when it comes to finding each other on the ice and coming up big in crucial moments. Sifferlen scored the game-winner in each game of the quarterfinal series against Catholic Memorial.
Seniors Brian Cameron and Patrick Wrenn also bring experience to the offensive group as do juniors Jake Witkowski and Austin Goldstein. Cameron had his best game of the season in last week's series-clinching victory over CM.
Often forgotten in the team's offensive prowess is the the top four on the blue line. Led by senior Nick Rolli and junior John McLean, the coach's son, the group knows what it takes to win in big games. Rolli scored on a blast from the point in the regular season meeting against Cathedral. Junior Will Lawrence has saved some of his best games of the season for the tournament.
As experienced as MC is, Cathedral is on the opposite end of the spectrum, but there is no shortage of talent on head coach Brian Foley's roster. The Panthers are loaded at all positions when it comes to players that could move on to the next level.
UMass recruit John Leonard, a crafty winger with terrific hands and vision, was invited to attend the USNTDP Evaluation Camp later this month in Ann Arbor. Holy Cross commit Peter Crinella, a powerful, strong forward, has seen his stock rise even more this season. Quinnipiac recruit D.J. Petruzzelli has scored several goals worthy of highlight reel material.
Then, there is a trio of '99-born skaters who are all uncommitted, yet will someday be highly sought after. Riley Prattson has terrific hands and hockey smarts for a young player. Devon Tongue, an eighth grader, has improved drastically since the beginning of the season and brings a level of unexpected composure and skill to the team's third line. Dan Petrick has shown off his offensive abilities from the blue line throughout the season and that has carried over to the tournament.
The team's only senior, goaltender John Liquori, got the start in net in the team's quarterfinal series clinching victory over Duxbury, but that could be the last start he makes. Freshman phenom Keith Petruzzelli became the first '99 to commit to a Division I college when he and older brother D.J. picked Quinnipiac in December. The lanky freshman goaltender is fundamentally sound and athletic with great feet. He really moves fast and well in the crease for such a big goaltender.
Keys to the game:
Springfield Cathedral needs to move the puck well, as the Panthers are very capable of, and drive the net. So far rebound control has been the only weakness of the tournament for the Lancers who have used both their goaltenders. Foley has said numerous times how important puck movement is to his team, and it will be tonight.
Malden Catholic needs to keep disciplined and stay out of the penalty box. The Lancers can ill-afford to put Cathedral on the man advantage more than necessary. If the game is close in the third period, one has to like MC's chances with its experience and ability to finish.
No. 1 BC High vs. No. 4 Austin Prep
Thursday's nightcap promises to be more of a low-scoring, physical, tight-checking game than the first game. No team in the state plays a more disciplined, defensively-sound system than BC High. Similarly, Austin Prep looks to protect star goaltender Elijah Harris and let the highly recruited goaltender do his work.
John Flaherty's top ranked Eagles defeated Austin Prep, 6-2, in the Buddy Ferreira Classic in Falmouth during the last week of the regular season. It was a game that was close until BC High busted loose in a three-goal second period explosion.
Another element to this game is the likely return of Merrimack commit Patrick Kramer who was injured in the Ferreira Classic. He likely could have been back last week, but was kept out for precautionary reasons with the team up in the series. He adds a dimension of playmaking ability to the BC High offense that is missing when he's out of the lineup.
When discussing top uncommitted players in the state of Massachusetts, BC High sophomore Ryan Shea is at the top of almost everyone's list, and rightfully so. The son of Boston College legend Dan Shea, the younger Shea is poised and composed with the puck and sees the game as well as could be expected for a player of his age.
He has interest from just about every Hockey East school and has offers from several. He is a one-man breakout and can quarterback the Eagles power play very effectively. The Milton, Mass. native is a smooth skater who will surely one day patrol a Hockey East blue line.
BC High assistant coach Bob Roche, a former Brown Bears defenseman, really has his blue liners buy into his system. The Eagles allowed 28 shots in their series clinching victory over Xaverian, but for the most part this season, the defense has done a terrific job of limiting chances and forcing opponents to the perimeter.
Senior Sam Topham had a terrific game last week as well and is a terrific number two defenseman at the high school level. Sophomore Billy Roche, junior Alec Flynn and senior Trevor Davis round out the core of the Eagles stout defense.
Austin Prep has a terrific sophomore blue liner that college coaches and scouts have started to hone in on in Peabody's J.J. Layton. The big, bruising defenseman has played physically and kept opponents from cutting into the middle.
He's been noticeable several times throughout the season, but he had his best game in the Super 8 opener at the TD Garden in his team's 2-1 win over Central Catholic. Layton performed well at last summer's USA Hockey Select 16 Festival and was drafted in last summer's USHL Draft by the Omaha Lancers.
Like Shea at BC High, Layton has a steady senior to follow on the blue line. Captain Andrew Cross has been a calming presence on Lou Finnochiaro's defense for a few years and is one of the more reliable defenders in the state.
The nightcap will also provide what should be a terrific goaltending duel between BC High sophomore Brandon Payzant and Austin Prep junior Elijah Harris.
Harris, the undersized goaltender out of Haverhill, Mass., really took the scouting world by storm last spring and summer with his performance in this tournament and at various prospect camps, namely the USA Hockey Select 16 Festival and the Beantown Classic.
He's quick in net, but being undersized and not taking up as much of the net as some of his bigger colleagues, he tries to be in position at all times to limit the need for making the acrobatic stop.
Payzant, a much bigger goaltender, is in his first year starting for BC High after being under the tutelage of Bowdoin recruit Peter Cronin last season. Payzant, a sophomore, has really dedicated himself to his craft and has been the best player on the ice for his team during several games this season, including last week's game against Xaverian.
In a game that is likely to be low-scoring, one big play by an offensive superstar might be the difference. Austin Prep junior Bobo Carpenter, a BU recruit, is certainly the offensive threat with the most upside in this game. The son of NHL veteran Bobby Carpenter, he has a heavy shot and when he turns on the jets, he can really create havoc.
AP sophomore Eric MacAdams, injured for much of the regular season, has terrific hands and was the team's most consistent threat in the first round.
For the Eagles, in addition to Merrimack recruit Patrick Kramer returning to the ice, Flaherty has several upperclassmen he relies on to contribute offensively. Senior Steve DeForge is one of those players who brings it every shift and is tenacious on the forecheck. He also has a good, hard shot and isn't afraid to go into the dirty areas to dig for pucks.
BC High juniors Jake Lemanski and Tim Larocque are two other offensive contributors who could have an impact on this game.
Keys to the game:
This should be a low scoring game with high intensity and the nerves will pick up, especially the longer the game goes without a decisive lead for either team. Both teams need to stick to their systems that work and not try to force anything.
Two of the best young goaltenders in the state are battling it out tonight. There is a good chance this game is decided by which young star plays best between the pipes.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.