If it’s Tuesday and you’re reading The Blue Line Report a day earlier than normal, then it must be for a good reason.
Is the chance to see if your favorite North Shore team can raise the state championship hardware over their heads in two-and-a-half-weeks reason enough?
If so, then read on.
Here in The Salem News readership area we have five teams in three divisions, all shooting for the proverbial brass ring. Below, by order of division, is an in-depth look at this quintet as we try to glean just how far each of them can go.
ST. JOHN’S PREP EAGLES
Record/Seeding: 17-2-1; No. 1 seed in Super 8 tournament
Goal differential: + 63 (89 goals for, 26 against)
Forward lines: LW Tyler Bird (10-14-24)-C Brian Pinho (14-25-39)-RW Jack McCarthy (11-7-18); LW James Currier (5-11-16)-C Nic Gianelli (3-7-10)-RW Andrew Brandano (13-8-21); LW Mark Azarian (2-2-4)-C Derek Osbahr (4-1-5)-RW Nick Bragole (2-4-6); LW Justin Longo (6-11-17)-C Cam Shaheen (8-2-10)-RW Paul Crehan (6-8-14).
Defense pairs: Brent Murray (0-6-6) & Evan Leclerc (1-5-6); Ean Mendeszoon (1-7-8) & James Brightney (2-3-5); Evan Dinu (0-1-1) & Ryan Byrne (0-3-3)
Goalie: Billy Price (14-2-1, 1.35 GAA, .923 save pct., 2 shutouts)
Potential postseason breakout hero: James Currier. A sparkplug for the Eagles’ ‘Yellow Line’, Currier has quickly become a figure along the wall on power plays, capable of generating scoring opportunities by setting someone up or getting the puck on goal himself.
They’re at their best when: They simplify things. Flash-and-dash aren’t (and don’t need to be) a large part of their game plan; doing things like chipping the puck out of the zone and making the simple pass have worked wonders.
X-Factor: The Eagles steadfastly refused to allow any team to score more than two goals in a game against them all winter.
Analysis: Everyone seems to be talking up Malden Catholic as the team that’s going to come all the way from a Super 8 play-in game to win their third straight state championship. With other strong teams such as B.C. High, Springfield Cathedral and even Catholic Memorial in the field, it enables St. John’s Prep an almost unheard-of luxury: a No. 1 seed that is being overlooked. The draw sets up nicely for the Eagles, with Central Catholic in the best-of-three round and, should they win that, a semifinal date with either Austin Prep or Reading to earn a spot at TD Garden on St. Patrick’s Day.
Record/Seeding: 18-1-1; No. 1 seed in Division 2 North
Goal differential: +77 (97 goals for, 20 against)
Forward lines: LW Andrew Irving (14-28-42)-C Connor Irving (14-30-44)-RW Jake Straw (6-7-13); LW Kevin Lally (3-3-6)-C Graham Doherty (20-11-31)-RW Jesse MacLaughlin (4-2-6); LW Ryan Santo (7-9-16)-C Teddy Leathersich (2-6-8)-RW Nate MacLaughlin (4-7-11); extra: J.J. Bachini (2-1-3)
Defense pairs: Nick Albano (8-15-23) & Matt Hamor (2-2-4); Jack Morency (2-8-10) & Sean Munzing (0-4-4)
Goalie: Tim Biarelli (14-0-1, 0.77 GAA, .954 save pct., 7 shutouts)
Potential postseason breakout hero: Kevin Lally. Unheralded winger never gives up the puck along the wall and is a terrific penalty killer and forechecker. Look for the junior to contribute several of those so-called ‘little things’ — a blocked shot, tying up an opponent’s stick, winning a key 50/50 battle — each night during the Panthers’ postseason run.
They’re at their best when: Everyone is focused on defensive zone coverage. When the blue line quartet in front of Biarelli is in lockdown mode and the forwards are ferociously backchecking and causing turnovers, it leads to odd-man rushes and oodles of scoring opportunities at the other end of the ice.
X-Factor: Beverly has gotten markedly better and more discipline at breaking the various traps teams have thrown at them throughout the season; watching video of how NHL and college programs do so as far as effectively breaking out and creating offensive chances has worked wonders.
Analysis: Like St. John’s Prep, the Panthers are attempting to become the first team in North Shore high school history to win a Super Bowl title and a state hockey championship in the same season. They’ve made no bones about the fact that the program’s first-ever state hockey crown is their ultimate goal, and a dominant regular season only whet their apetites further. The Division 2 North draw, some feel, may be the most difficult of all Bay State hockey tournaments to win — for starters, consider that the top-seeded Panthers would be an underdog against third-seeded (and defending state champion) Wilmington — but this is a team that tasted the sour taste of losing once already and doesn’t plan on doing so again. Plus, the fact that they’ve dedicated their season to inspirational head coach Bobby Gilligan adds more fuel to the Panthers’ fire.
Record/Seeding: 10-6-4; No. 8 seed in Division 2 North
Goal differential: +19 (59 goals for, 40 against)
Forward lines: LW A.J. Couto (18-7-25)-C Joe Strangie (12-13-25)-RW Rob Buchanan (4-11-15); LW Matt Flynn (4-4-8)-C Adam Merry (5-11-16)-RW Jay Calcagno (6-3-9); LW Jon Milne (1-2-3)-C Kevin Hodgkins (0-6-6)-RW Trevor Daly (1-4-5).
Defense pairs: Mike Disciullo (2-12-14) & Kevin Anderson (0-3-3); Shea Doyle (0-1-1) & Stephen Ganley (2-0-2)
Goalie: Alex Taylor (10-6-3, 1.94 GAA, .884 save pct., 3 shutouts)
Potential postseason breakout hero: Matt Flynn. Sleeping giant has been skating very well of late and has generated a ton of scoring chances for himself; it seems as though goals are just waiting to spring off his stick.
They’re at their best when: They grind and get dirty. Danvers wins games by limiting shots, delivering hits (witness the 26 they had against Triton in their regular season finale), limiting shots and capitalizing on opportunities. That might not be exciting, but it’s a formula that works.
X-Factor: A win over Somerville in tonight’s first round would set up a third meeting this season with top-ranked Beverly in the quarterfinals.
Analysis: There’s little gray area when it comes to this season’s Falcons; when they’re on their game and skating crisply they tend to do very well; when they fall into bad habits, don’t generate chances and stop skating, Murphy’s Law takes over. What’s it going to be now that the playoffs are here? We’re betting on the former.
Record/Seeding: 17-5; No. 2 seed in Division 3 North
Goal differential: +71 (102 goals for, 31 against)
Forward lines: LW Tom Koopman (21-19-40)-C Ian Maag (11-21-32)-RW Ty Bates (5-16-21); LW Erik Powers (4-7-11)-C Dean Fader (6-7-13)-RW Trip Franzese (24-11-35); LW Trevor Jones (2-6-8)-C Matt Koopman (11-17-28)-RW Aaron DeAngelo (2-6-8); extra: Tim Kalinowski (4-1-5).
Defense pairs: Liam Gillis (2-14-15) & Zac Cuzner (0-6-6); Kyle Koopman (1-10-11) & Cam Rowe (2-6-8); P.J. Roy (0-1-1) & Trevor Gelineau (1-3-4)
Goalies: Harrison Young (9-2, 1.18 GAA, .936 save pct., 4 shutouts) & Myles Barry (8-3, 1.66 GAA, .905 save pct., 3 shutouts)
Potential postseason breakout hero: Lot of good choices here, but let’s go with Cam Rowe. Senior who is playing defense for the first time this season weighs just 148 pounds but throws his body around like he’s Bruins’ bruiser Adam McQuaid; he’s never afraid to sacrifice himself for the good of the team.
They’re at their best when: They challenge opposing puck carriers, eliminate time and space and cause turnovers — they capitalize at the other end of the ice.
X-Factor: Nine different Headers were members of the 2010-11 squad that won the program its first state championship.
Analysis: Let’s cut to the chase: Marblehead is the favorite to win Divsion 3 North. The Headers have plenty of size (their top line weighs a combined 625 lbs.), speed, depth and two excellent goaltenders (and they may continue their season-long rotation in net). Could another skate on the Garden ice be on tap?
SWAMPSCOTT BIG BLUE
Record/Seeding: 15-5, No. 3 seed in Division 3 North
Goal differential: +41 (77 goals for, 36 against)
Forward lines: LW Corey Carmody (14-8-22)-C Nuznio Morretti (13-11-24)-RW Noah Maercklein (9-11-20); LW Robert Serino (6-11-17)-C Griffin Hunt (7-1-8)-RW Ryan Cresta (7-8-15); LW Tyler Peterson (1-3-4)-C Joey Silva (5-5-10)-RW Devon Wall (2-1-3).
Defense pairs: Trevor Massey (4-18-22) & Chris Carman (8-12-20); Patrick Burkett (1-4-5) & Chris Dandreo (0-6-6)
Goalie: Tristan Bradley (10-2, 1.68 GAA, .913 save pct., 3 shutouts)
Potential postseason breakout hero: Griffin Hunt. A strong, physical junior, Hunthas all the tools and potential to be a dominant player with his speed and smarts.
They’re at their best when: They attack pucks all over the ice, defend well and win battles. It all starts with defense for Swampscott; the offense is generated from there.
X-Factor: Forty-four years without a playoff win. Could it be anything else?
Analysis: What a relief it would be for the Big Blue to get that playoff monkey off their backs after almost five decades. I say it happens, setting Swampscott up with a third chance to knock off their arch rivals from Marblehead in the quarterfinals. If they can accomplish that, then the sky’s the lmiit.
The Blue Line Report, a weekly column on North Shore high school hockey, is written by sports editor Phil Stacey. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 978-338-2650, and follow him on Twitter at PhilStacey_SN.