FALMOUTH -- Austin Prep solidified its hold on the No. 3 spot for the 2015 MIAA Super 8 Hockey Tournament with a 6-2 win over BC High in the second semifinal of the Buddy Ferreira Classic. The Cougars will face public school Super 8 hopeful Hingham, 5-2 winners in the other semifinal, in the championship game on Thursday at 7 p.m.
Mike Egan banged home a loose puck with 4:43 to play in the opening period to get the scoring started. Austin Prep added to its lead before the first period ended with a power play tally. Cam Russo found Jake McKennelly for a quick strike at the 13:33 mark.
The two teams skated to a scoreless second period in large part due to the outstanding goaltending of AP freshman Dylan Regan. He stopped two breakaways and kicked away a couple other shots from right in the slot.
"They outplayed us in the second period," said AP coach Louis Finocchiaro. "Dylan has been playing wonderful all year. He's a freshman. He's just been solid for us all year. He made some real nice saves."
"Dylan has been unbelievable all year. He's stepped in and filled a big role. I can't say enough about him," added Russo.
After that lackluster second period where the Cougars relied on their goaltender to keep them ahead, they started applying some pressure again in the third and playing well with the two-goal lead.
"I'm very pleased with our third period. It's hard to hold on to a two-goal lead especially against a good team like that. In the third period I liked that we came out with some poise. We didn't sit back on our heels and try to hold on to the lead. That was our goal. That was what we talked about before coming out," said Finocchiaro.
It paid off when Anthony Cieri finished off a crazy sequence that saw a wild save by BC High goaltender Brandon Payzant to prevent a scoring chance just prior to the goal.
Russo and McKennelly combined for consecutive goals just a few minutes later to push the Austin Prep advantage to 5-0. The fifth goal set off some fireworks of emotions that saw Egan and BC High's Justin Fein ejected for a post-goal skirmish.
Russo and McKennelly have really been a hot duo offensively lately, including scoring a big goal in last week's 4-3 win over Arlington Catholic. The pair seems to know exactly where the other is on the ice at all times.
"We've been playing together for quite some time now. We really know where each other is going to be. We just put the puck there and hope the other guy finishes. Most of the time he's going to," said Russo.
Louis Finocchiaro scored to give AP a 6-0 lead before BC High's Ryan Shea and Connor Noonan scored in garbage time to bring the final score to 6-2.
The power play has been a huge reason for the Cougars' success this season as it was again on Monday.
"The last couple games the power play has been clicking. We're six for [our last] six," said Russo. "We're just moving the puck quick. It's been giving us open lanes. We've been able to put the puck in the net."
Our power play is really moving the puck well," added Finocchiaro, who noted his team's prowess on the man advantage over the last three games.
Super 8 Prognostications:
We'll have a closer look with a more in-depth analysis, but here's this observer's projections for now (as of all games completed, Monday, Feb. 16).
1. Malden Catholic (14-0-2) - Counted out by this observer and most others in the preseason, the Lancers have far exceeded expectations. John McLean's team doesn't have some of the dynamic offensive weapons it has had in the past, but it has dominated puck possession and stifled a very tough schedule. A potential Super 8 championship game preview against Cathedral awaits Thursday if both teams get by their opening round games in the Cathedral Tournament Wednesday.
2. Springfield Cathedral (18-0-2) - It's tough to put the Panthers beneath the No. 1 spot, but it's just too tough to argue against the four-time defending state champions. Barring an upset in the first round of the Cathedral Tournament this week, the two teams will be able to battle it out on the ice in a potential preview of the Super 8 championship game.
3. Austin Prep (18-1-0) - As mentioned above, the Cougars solidified the No. 3 spot with Monday's 6-2 win rout of BC High. The back-to-back Super 8 runner-up lost starting goaltender Elijah Harris, stud goal scorer Robert Carpenter and defensemen Andrew Cross and J.J. Layton, but have come together as a team and not missed a beat. Louis Finocchiaro's team hasn't lost since the championship game of the Christie Serino Christmas Classic on Dec. 28.
4. BC High (12-5-2) - Despite its thumping at the hands of AP Monday night, the Eagles remain locked into the No. 4 seed. John Flaherty's team won each regular season game against St. John's rather easily in the regular season. BC High has seemed lackadaisical and disinterested at times during the regular season. There are still enough weapons for the Eagles to make a run in the postseason.
5. St. John's Prep (13-5-1) - Kristian Hanson's young team seems pretty much guaranteed to fall into the No. 5 spot. SJP is a step below the top four teams, but also a notch above the next group of Super 8 contenders. The Prep's top line on the line chart is all seniors, but several young players dot the lineup in key positions. How will the youth fare in the limelight?
6. Xaverian (13-5-1) - Despite splitting the regular season series with the Prep, the Hawks fall into the sixth seed because it had less wins against fellow Super 8 contenders. No team is going to want to draw a first round matchup against Dave Spinale's team -- especially considering the daunting task of beating sophomore goaltender Aidan Murphy.
7. Burlington (14-1-3) - The Red Devils' only loss came back in December against Woburn, a team they beat last week. Bob Conceison's team hasn't played any of the Catholic Conference schools, but it has run the gauntlet in the Middlesex League outside that one loss to the Tanners. This isn't as good a Burlington team as the one that won the Division 1 tournament a few years ago. If it runs the table the rest of the way, Conceison's team should get a bid. Conceison won his 350th game behind the Burlington bench on Monday with a 3-1 victory over Reading. The loss meant the Rockets would miss the postseason for the first time in 30 years. It was a spectacular run from Mark Doherty and his dad before him. Mark Doherty, a former player at UNH, is the owner of Dynamik Sports, the go-to hockey equipment supplier on the North Shore. A tip of the hat to Reading, the defending Division 1 champion, is certainly in order.
8. Hingham (11-8-1) - Tony Messina's young team has had an up and down year, but when it is playing its best hockey, there is no public school team better in the state. The Harbormen will likely have a shot to guarantee a spot with a win against Austin Prep in the Buddy Ferreira Classic championship game Thursday night. The duo of sophomores Matt Demelis and Matt Egan are as good as there is among the public schools.
9. Central Catholic (15-5-2) - The Raiders' record against other teams in contention for a Super 8 bid isn't too good which will likely keep them down in the seeding. There's little doubt Mike Jankowski's team will be in the field, but it will likely have to get past a play-in game. Goaltending issues as well as its best player being a '00 freshman are potential roadblocks to success once CC gets into the Super 8.
10. Franklin (13-1-3) - This is a projection as if the tournament started today and the regular season was over. It is not, so Franklin still has some work to do. It obviously has to run the table, and doing so would include a win over Barnstable. The Panther's exempted their 6-2 loss to Malden Catholic, but were ahead after one period and played well for much of the contest. Franklin, a former Division 2 power, tied Cathedral, 3-3, earlier in the season, certainly a feather in its cap considering Cathedral's dominance this season.
11. Woburn (13-1-4) - Jim Duran's team will likely be relegated to the Division 1 North Tournament due to its struggling down the finish. The Tanners are 0-1-2 over their last three, including a loss to Burlington. Woburn exempted its 5-0 loss to St. John's Prep earlier in the season. A win over Milton, a team included in the first round of the Super 8 watch list, will go a long way in possibly pushing Woburn back into the mix. Winning the Middlesex League is no slouch as it has historically been the best public league in the state. Woburn most likely needs some help including a Hingham and/or Franklin loss.
12. Barnstable (12-4-1) - The Red Raiders' Super 8 hopes took a big hit Monday with a 4-3 loss to a Milton team that was excluded from the most recent watch list after showing up on the first one. Scott Nickerson's team is likely done, but weirder things have happened.
13. Braintree (9-3-6) - Dave Fasano's team went on an unbelievable run to finish the regular season last year which gave them entry into the Super 8. A controversial loss to CM sent the Wamps back into the Division 1 South Tournament which it won en route to the TD Garden. There has been no such run this year. A win over St. John's Prep on Wednesday increases the odds, but it's a long shot no matter what.
Milton, as mentioned above, was removed from the watch list after being included in the first one. The 13-4-3 Wildcats feasted on a relatively easy schedule. Prior to Monday's 4-3 win over Barnstable, the best win on the resume of Paul Noonan's team was probably a 2-0 victory over Wellesley. A win over Woburn on Wednesday night would make things mighty interesting. It's not unprecedented for a team to be included after not showing up on a certain watch list.
Catholic Memorial was on the watch-list, but has been eliminated from playoff contention due to a below-500 record.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.