Lowell, Mass. -- Wednesday's first semifinal features two teams that had very different levels of expectations entering the season.
No. 1 Springfield Cathedral was thought to be the class of the state by most observers back in December and ran the gauntlet as the only undefeated team in Massachusetts. The six Division I commitments on Brian Foley's team is the most in the state. No other team has more than two. The Panthers didn't just win most games, they ran right over teams.
No. 5 St. John's Prep suffered through a sub-500 season a year ago and was an afterthought by most when coming up with teams to even make the Super 8. Even coach Kristian Hanson admitted that his team's goal was to finish the regular season a few games over 500 and look for a spot in the play-in game. Instead, the Eagles went 14-5-1 in the regular season and swept BC High in two games to advance to the semifinals.
On paper this is obviously a mismatch, but St. John's Prep has a potential game-changer in junior goaltender Kyle Martin, who has come up with monumental performances, particularly in the second half of the season. The Eagles are 10-1-1 since a Jan. 17 setback against BC High.
Martin is a big reason for that, but so is the maturation of some of the St. John's roster that had little to no varsity experience entering the season. The defensive group tasked with protecting Martin is extremely green in the thumb. Freshmen Paul Edson and Tim Usalis are talented players that are highly regarded while juniors Seth Murray and Brian Groom played very little before this season at this level.
Where the Prep does have leadership is on its first line. The line is made up of three seniors, Tyler Scearbo, Ted McNamara and Nick Latham. Scearbo is the speedster of the line while Latham and McNamara have a knack for finding the puck and getting off quality shots.
The second line is younger, but it's a heady group that plays well together. Kyle Hentosh, the assistant coach's son, has good hockey IQ and is also a good penalty killer. Kyle Lynch has good skill over on the right wing and Billy Falter, a transfer from Wilmington, adds some quickness and grit.
The third line was quite possibly the most valuable line in the first round series sweep over BC High. Mitch Shaheen centers the line and came up with some key defensive plays. Sam Stone scored twice in the series-clinching win.
No matter how good the third line is playing, the Eagles will have their hands full trying to contain Springfield Cathedral's vaunted attack. UMass commit John Leonard leads the way with his dynamic skill set that will almost certainly be in Green Bay (USHL) next season. Quinnipiac commit D.J. Petruzzelli is the grit of the line who feeds Leonard the puck.
Holy Cross recruit Peter Crinella brings power and strength to the other top line with Zac and Riley Prattson. Zac, a LeMoyne lacross commit, is more of the grinder while younger brother Riley, a Providence recruit, brings the skill and creativity despite his lack of size.
Sophomore Dan Petrick leads the defense. He's short, but he's as rugged as they come in high school hockey. He's strong and plays with a chip on his shoulder. He likes to step into the offense with his zone exits as well as his quarterbacking of the power play.
To top off all the talent across the board, the Panthers have the undisputed best goaltender in the state. Keith Petruzzelli, a Quinnipiac recruit, is quite possibly the best '99 goaltender in the entire country. He's big, he's technically sound and he's quick.
Prediction: Cathedral wins 4-1.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior, high school and prep hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.