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Super 8 Play-in Game Preview: No. 8 Burlington vs. No. 9 Woburn

Woburn faces-off against Reading in a Middlesex League game at O'Brien Rink earlier this season.
Woburn faces-off against Reading in a Middlesex League game at O'Brien Rink earlier this season.

Tuesday night's second Super 8 Play-in Game pits two bitter Middlesex League rivals squaring off for the right to advance in the tournament to play No. 1 Springfield Cathedral. No. 8 Burlington and No. 9 Woburn should treat fans at the Chelmsford Forum to an intense game with emotions riding high.

"This is what it's all about. The close proximity of the two towns and the fans," said Burlington coach Bob Conceison. "Both towns really support their teams, especially winning teams. It's a great rivalry."

It doesn't get much better than that. Two heated rivals who split their regular season series in the rubber match with a spot in the Super 8 on the line while the loser will be bounced back into the Division 1 North Tournament. There is sure to be a large contingent of fans from each side.

"We're very excited. Even for the 3 p.m. game a few weeks ago the place was packed with students. The kids at school are very excited and I'm sure the Burlington kids feel the same," said Woburn coach Jim Duran.

Duran's Tanners won a 2-1 decision at O'Brien Rink back on Dec. 20 before Conceison's Red Devils salvaged the regular series split with a 4-2 win on Feb. 12 at the Burlington Ice Palace.

"The first game that we won could have gone either way," said Duran. "I feel the same about the second game they won."

"With this game being so close to the second one, Woburn might have that extra factor of wanting to avenge the loss from a couple weeks ago,"

The Red Devils (16-1-4)

Burlington's only loss was over two months ago -- the previously mentioned setback against Woburn. Conceison's team hasn't faced any of the gauntlet of the Catholic Conference, but went otherwise unscathed in the always tough Middlesex League, perennially the best public school conference in the state.

Burlington, the 2012 and 2013 Massachusetts Division 1 State Champions, is a team that relies primarily on its junior class.

"Our junior class is real strong, but we're a team that relies on balance. We get scoring from all lines. We've ha some injuries and have had to move some lines around and get guys back playing with each other," Conceison explained.

If there is one standout offensively it is junior Anthony Nikolopoulos who leads the way as a true finisher. He can also distribute the puck, but he's got a good sense of the ice and makes some real nifty plays.

"Anthony is a natural goal scorer. If the puck is near the net there's a good chance he'll find it. He's got good hands, a good shot and he knows where to be," Conceison said.

Classmate Robby Ryan is the team's top set up guy, averaging almost an assist per game. Tom Hanafin and Robby McLean are two other juniors who have had an impact on the team's offense. Senior John Manfredi has been a mainstay on the offense as well with double-digit goal totals, but he's a game-time decision, due to an injury.

The defense has been led all season by the team's two co-captains, Adam Morgan and Nick Carlino. Junior blue liners Josh Boulos and Shane O'Halloran are the puck-movers of the group with the ability to quarterback the power play and break the puck up ice.

"The defense is the key to our team. We're a team that starts a lot of our offense from our defensemen. Shane and Josh help us get the offense going from the back end," said Conceison.

Junior goaltender Nick Howard has five shutouts in his first season as the goaltender for the Red Devils. His progression since December has shown on paper as well as just by watching him in the crease.

"For a first year goaltender, you need to give him a chance to grow. We think he's playing his best hockey now. He makes the saves when we need him to," said Conceison.

The Tanners (15-2-4)

Woburn has a dynamic first line, centered by '99 sophomore Justin Alves. He's flanked by junior right wing Evan McDonald and junior left wing Timmy Doherty. Alves and McDonald have become quite the one-two punch, complementing each other well. Alves is the heady play maker with good vision while McDonald is the finisher who knows where to find the puck.

"Justin is such a good play maker. He's always looking to make the pass. He's a left shot center so he fits well with Evan who is a right side finisher," Duran explained.

Senior Joe Santullo has brought some veteran leadership to the offense, has chipped in with some very timely goals and provided secondary scoring.

"Joey has brought that senior leadership. He's really come up big for us his senior year. He keeps getting better and better," said Duran.

The defense has been rock solid in the always-tough Middlesex League. Excluding the 5-0 loss to St. John's Prep, the Tanners allowed just 23 goals in the other 20 games. Duran has only utilized four defensemen for much of the season.

"The defense has been our strength. We only use four defensemen. Tyler [Shaw] has been the steadiest back there," said Duran, who also trots out Connor Power, Nick Lissner and Tim Concannon on his blue line.

Sophomore Sam Best has been very steady and dependable in his first full season as a starter, racking up seven shutouts. He played in a few games last year, but primarily backed up senior Jeremy Filbotte.

"We knew last year he was a very good goalie, but we didn't throw him in there because we were fighting for a playoff spot. Our senior didn't falter so we stuck with him," said Duran of his goalie who enters the tournament with two consecutive shutouts to end the regular season.

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