This is a rematch of last year's No. 4 vs. No. 5 quarterfinal series, won by Austin Prep in two games. Both the Cougars and Central Catholic are very different teams this year. Austin Prep won, 3-1, when the two teams met in January in Stoneham.
No. 3 Austin Prep (19-1-1)
A lot of people wrote off Lou Finocchiaro's team in the preseason, including this observer, but were we ever wrong. Despite losing four very key players for various reasons, the Cougars haven't missed a beat. Brown recruit and star goaltender Elijah Harris and top defenseman J.J. Layton both left early to go to Kimball Union, Robert Carpenter forged his senior season for the USHL and captain and solid defenseman Andrew Cross graduated.
AP lost just once, a setback in the Christie Serino Christmas Tournament championship game to Malden Catholic. It's terrific season came about by playing together and becoming more of a team. As one coach whose team played the Cougars this season put it, this year's Cougars are more of a complete team.
No one has been higher on '97 junior Eric MacAdams all season than this observer. AP's first line center is a complete player who plays well in all 200 feet of the ice. He wins face-offs, he's strong on his skates, has a strong stick, can finish and can dish out tape-to-tape passes.
He battled injury last season, but when he came back, he scored a couple of clutch goals in the Super 8. He's not as fancy as some of the committed studs, but he's very good. His game is even better this season after working on his game over the off-season at the USA Hockey Select 17 Festival and other summer showcases.
Cam Russo is the team's number two center and he's a very good one at that. He's a good finisher and can also be the setup guy. He skates well with linemate Jake McKennelly. The two have developed a special chemistry playing together the past few years.
Mike Egan, who has played alongside MacAdams, has really elevated his play this season and scored quite a few goals.
Austin can roll three forward lines that can all skate very well. The coach's son, also named Louis Finocchiaro, has been the anchor to the team's third line.
Austin Prep's best defenseman is late '98 Collin Murphy, the son of a former BC football player. He's got nice size and can skate fairly well for a kid with his frame at his age. He does an adequate job of distributing the puck and has a good stick.
Classmate and fellow late '98 Ryan Verrier has also been effective this season. Converted forward Dan O'Toole, a senior, and classmate Mike Disciullo have provided senior leadership to the blue line. An important piece of the puzzle is Kevin Kiley who has been out with an injury. His return could certainly bolster what has already been a solid defense.
Goaltender of the Future:
'99 freshman Dylan Regan has stepped right in and filled the rather large skates of the departed Harris who is now plying his trade in prep hockey. As any young freshman is bound to have, Regan has had a few goals he'd surely like to have back, but overall, he's been very good.
He's small like Harris, but is a little more fundamentally sound. He doesn't wander from the crease too often. He's good positionally and has good reflexes.
No. 6 Central Catholic (15-5-2)
The Raiders struggled against the upper echelon of the state this season, but took care of business against its lesser opponents for the most part. Mike Jankowski's team graduated three very key forwards and its starting goaltender from last year's Super 8 team.
Any discussion on Central's top player starts and ends with '00 freshman Jake Wise, a Boston University commit. Many observers have had him pegged as the region's next Jack Eichel before he even played a high school game. He's stood out for years since he and his team shined in the prestigious Quebec pee-wee tournament.
Wise is a strong kid for his age who is very good on his skates. He skates well and cuts extraordinarily well. He's got that explosive first stride and that extra burst when he needs to get around an opponent. He's got a heavy shot and the offensive creativity usually only seen in kids who have a few years on him.
Senior forward Christian Thompson is small, but he's quick and can really lift them up and put them down. '99 forward Cam Gendron has been lined up with Wise for most games this season, has some nice offensive instincts and is a gritty little player. Two other forwards to keep an eye on are seniors Eric Robbins and Billy Stahley.
Senior Leaders on Blue Line:
With such a young offense in terms of its leaders, it's important for Central Catholic to have two seniors who have the most impact on defense. Sean Holly and David Sheehan will be tasked with shutting down AP's top two lines.
After splitting time with the team's other two netminders to start the season, '98 junior Pat Schena has really come on strong down the stretch and taken the responsibility between the pipes. He's got pretty good size and helped limit Malden Catholic to just three goals and has given up just four goals in his last five games.
A part of me thinks Austin Prep is playing really well and could just run away with this series. Another says the teams fought a pretty close game back in January and the Raiders are finally starting to get good goaltending. I'll go somewhere in between. The Cougars win in two, 5-4 and 3-1.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior, high school and prep hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.