The four-time defending Super 8 champion welcomes Division 1 newcomer Franklin into the premier tournament in Massachusetts high school hockey. Will it be a friendly and hospitable introduction?
The two teams met just over two weeks ago and it was closer than some might have expected. Franklin actually led Malden Catholic after one period and kept it close for the first half of the game before the Lancers pulled away for a 6-2 win.
No. 2 Malden Catholic (16-1-2)
John McLean's Lancers, looking for another ring for the thumb finger, are the heavy and undisputed favorite in this quarterfinal series. They have talent and experience on their side and their is little reason to think anything other than two blowout wins are on the horizon.
Northeastern commit Matt Filipe, the junior captain of the Lancers, is the team's offensive catalyst. An affiliate player of the USHL's Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, this is likely Filipe's last opportunity to win a Super 8 title as all signs point to the Lynnfield native playing junior hockey next year.
Filipe is a big power forward who can impose his will on opposing players when he's bringing his game. The late '97 has the size and strength to bull his way to the net and leverage defenders from the puck. He also has that explosive burst that allows him to blow by defenders on the perimeter.
He's such a big and powerful kid he sometimes gets called for penalties that he doesn't deserve because of how tight high school referees often call games. He needs to keep his emotions in check and reel it in as MC is a far better team with him on the ice than in the penalty box.
Filipe is the only player committed to a Division I school, but McLean's team has a few other prospects worth noting. '96 senior right wing Jake Witkowski is a quick, athletic player who can use his elusiveness to get open and separate from opposing defenders.
Fellow senior right wing Austin Goldstein, a '97, has similar attributes, and has really made great strides in his final season in an MC uniform.
The third line has been terrific this year for McLean's team. '97 right wing Jack Adams has led the line with his size and put up some gaudy numbers at times. He improved his skating and was able to really maneuver around the offensive zone. Left wing Brendan White is another big body that can cause chaos cycling down low. Center Nick Botticelli really has some wheels and can blow right past opponents.
Puck Possession Defense:
Malden Catholic doesn't have the true bona fide stud on the blue line that BC High and Springfield Cathedral have, but the Lancers have five defenders who really help in the puck possession game. The MC defense can all skate well, retrieve pucks going back well and have above average skills with the puck.
One player who coaches should keep an eye on is '98 left defenseman Pat Harrington. He isn't too flashy, but he makes good, quick decisions with the puck, skates well and has good gaps.
'97 senior Will Lawrence skates very well and has good puck skills. Chris Hopkins, also a key part of MC's baseball team, is an athletic blue liner. Matt Ciulla and Matt Yianacopoulus add solid depth to the back line. Whether or not the coach's son, also named John McLean, returns for this round doesn't seem too pressing of a matter.
Malden Catholic used a rotation for much of the regular season with '96 senior Alex Reissis splitting time with '98 sophomore Kyle Casey. It's a good bet that each will get one start in the series. Casey got a lot of the key starts and is the goaltender that the coaching staff seems to have more trust in.
The four-time defending state champions have plenty of experience on their side and also have an advantage in the age department with a couple '96s on the roster.
No. 7 Franklin (17-2-3)
Chris Spillane's program won a couple state championships at the Division 2 level before making the jump to Division 1 last season. The Panthers made it to the Division 1 South Tournament last year before bowing out. It was a good way to get the team's feet wet, but this is a whole new ball game.
The coach's son Ryan Spillane is the offensive catalyst. He's not big, but he's got a good awareness of what's going on around him on the ice. He scored the overtime game-winning goal in the Super 8 play-in game win over Xaverian.
He leads the team in scoring with 23 goals and 18 assists. He's got that innate ability to be around the puck, make nice passes and find open teammates.
Fellow seniors Alec Borkowski and Joe Borque round out the Panthers' top line with Spillane. Borkowski played more of an important role in the Super 8 play-in game, but both did some nice things with the puck on their sticks.
Senior defenseman Nick Morris had an assist on the team's first goal and pinched in for the goal on the game-tying tally with the goalie pulled late in the third period. He's not usually known for his offensive punch from the blue line, but it will be efforts like his that will be needed to pull off the monumental upset.
Senior defenseman Kyle Filbert is the team's best blue liner. He had a nice stick, played gaps fairly well and did a nice job with one-on-one battles. He also moved the puck quickly.
Before the Super 8 play-in game, Spillane called his senior goaltender Ryan Shea the backbone of his team. The Panthers put up a ton of offense so that might be an overstatement, but if Franklin is going to have any chance in this series, Shea better be at the top of his game.
Franklin is a senior-laden team loaded with upperclassmen. Spillane's team can play with that nothing to lose attitude knowing the whole state expects them to get blown out. Most of the seniors were part of three state championship runner-up teams as freshmen and sophomores so they know what it takes to win a title. They also have already had experience in a close game this post-season. Franklin tied Springfield Cathedral, 3-3, so it's not like the Panthers can't play with the best of the best.
Malden Catholic wins this series in two games, 6-2 and 5-1.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior, high school and prep hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.