The Blue Line Report
Before the season began, he was The Question Mark on the St. Mary's of Lynn hockey team.
Now, as the Spartans gear up for a Super 8 playoff berth and what they hope will be a long tournament run, goaltender Bailey MacBurnie has become The Exclamation Mark.
As in, does St. Mary's have a top flight goalie who can win his team a state championship?
Yes they do!
MacBurnie, a sophomore from Beverly, has made his first season as a varsity starter a memorable one thus far. He (along with his team) is a sparkling 17-1-3 between the pipes with a miniscule 1.36 goals-against average and whopping .938 save percentage, to go along with three shutouts.
Since losing the season opener to defending Super 8 champion Malden Catholic (how's that for being thrown into the fire as a first-time starter?) MacBurnie and the Spartans are unbeaten in their last 20 games. They figure to get the No. 2 seed behind MC when the Super 8 pairings are released Saturday.
"I really feel that our team can play with anyone. We all feel that way," said the 16-year-old MacBurnie, who has been with the St. Mary's varsity since he was an eighth grader. "It's a great team with kids who like to work hard, with great coaches who motivate us to always keep looking forward.
"That first game for me against MC, it was little bit like 'Wow, this is really happening.' But after that, I knew I could handle it."
MacBurnie has done more than handle it; he's cemented a position that both Spartan coaches and players had concerns about prior to the start of the season.
Three-year starter and all-star Donald Hesse of Salem had graduated and MacBurnie, while serving as his backup for two years, didn't have the in-game experience needed to succeed at this level.
As it turns out, MacBurnie was better than anyone with the program could have expected, said veteran head coach Mark Lee.
"For a sophomore, Bailey plays like a true veteran," said Lee, whose team has allowed just 31 goals in 20 games. "He's very mentally prepared; day in and day out he's focused and ready to go. That part of his game is outstanding. And physically, he makes one game saving stop after another.
"I give his parents (Jeff and Dawn MacBurnie) a lot of credit for all the training he's had before he came to us. Bailey plays his angles well, anticipates well, and it all pays off in games. And he's so mentally strong, a kid who really loves playing under pressure. That stuff you can't teach."
MacBurnie, who styles his game after that of Phoenix Coyotes netminder Mike Smith, has honed his game by working with Brian Daccord at Stop It Goaltending in Woburn. In particular, they focus on making the game simpler: everything from rebound control and breakaways to putting a bad goal behind him immediately after it happens.
MacBurnie — whose younger brother Shawn is a freshman on the St. Mary's varsity — also spends a lot of time talking strategy and the art of goaltending with his St. Mary's coach, Devin Anno, and has worked in the past with Mike Buckley in Middleton.
He also learned from watching Hesse, a good friend and outstanding example, MacBurnie said, of how a goalie should act.
"He didn't make many mistakes and didn't overplay the puck or overthink things. Don was always very calm," said the 6-foot, 150-pounder. "I think I drew some skill off of things I saw him do."
Close friends with many of the Beverly High hockey team members that he grew up playing with, MacBurnie said he chose to attend St. Mary's because he felt playing Division 1 high school hockey gives him a better chance of his ultimate goal down the road: tending net for a Division 1 college program.
He has played his best in big games thus far for the Spartans. He dove across his crease to make a paddle save off a rebound on Arlington Catholic's Brian O'Connell (a former Jr. Warriors teammate) in a game that won St. Mary's the Catholic Central League title. He also stopped 40 shots in his team's rematch with Malden Catholic, a well-earned 3-3 tie.
"You build from your goaltender out," said Lee, "and in Bailey, I'd put him up against anyone."
Now, the one-time question mark has become a pillar of strength between the pipes for the Lynn parochial school. Not only do his teammates and coaches have faith in him, but he has faith in them, too.
"We're all really tight, like a band of brothers," he said of his fellow Spartans. "We don't let much come between us. And we all have the same goal: we want to win the Super 8 title.
"Every day, every practice, we go into our locker room and say, 'We can do this.' To make it to the Garden, we'll know we'll have to face MC, St. John's Prep, B.C. High, the whole crew (of state powerhouses). But we all feel we can do it. I hope we get the chance to."
• • •
Scan down the St. Mary's roster, and there are 11 other players aside from the MacBurnie brothers who call The Salem News readership area home.
Brothers Niko and Andrew Markham of Salem are two rocks on defense for the Spartans; Niko is a senior captain whom Lee calls "the Ray Bourque of our team" for the amount of minutes he logs and the offensive-minded spark he gives them. Like his brother, Andrew has a big shot, is a little more vocal and can be big and physically intimidating.
Sophomore Jordan Manthorne is a first line winger from Peabody who has eight goals and 18 points. He's strong, athletic and tenacious and never stops working, said Lee. Eighth grader Eric MacAdams of Salem is another top line talent who has already produced four goals and 16 points; he skates with senior Tim Aylward of Swampscott (10-9-19) and Cam O'Neill of Lynn (13-13-26).
Junior Connor Parent of Danvers, who has had the misfortune of being hurt all three years of his high school career, recently returned from a ruptured spleen and has an assist in two games back. Lee is hoping he'll make a big impact in the postseason.
Another skater from Danvers, freshman Chris Butler, made the switch from forward to defense three weeks ago and is now part of the Spartans' regular rotation on the blue line. Connor Jennings and Nick Holt are both backup freshmen goaltenders from Salem, while junior right wing Ryan Madden of Salem fills a role up front and freshman Austin Frankel of Peabody is gaining experience each day in practice.
• • •
Salem's season is now over; the Witches won but one of their 19 games this winter. But head coach Brian Addesa certainly was not disappointed with the effort his Witches gave, nor the support he and the program received from the players' parents.
"It can be tough when you lose a lot of games," said Addesa, "but the players always came to the rink ready to work. And the parents were always supportive in tough times, there for their sons and the team."
While the Witches graduate just four seniors (leading scorer Paul DiMarino, forward Matt LeBlanc and defenseman Dan Tsivin and D.J. McRae), there are currently only three slated to part of next year's roster: defensemen Jake Batista and Anthony Maurais, as well as scoring forward Spencer Bergholtz.
McRae, it should be noted, has already signed up for the Marine Corps and will be headed off for basic training after his high school graduation in June.
• • •
The Blue Line Report, a column on North Shore high school hockey, appears each Wednesday during the winter months in The Salem News. Contact Phil Stacey at email@example.com or 978-338-2650, and follow him on Twitter: @PhilStacey_SN.
Stacey's quick shifts
1. With 55 points in 20 games, Beverly's Connor Irving has shattered the BHS sophomore record for points in a season (the program's all-time leading scorer, Roger LeBlanc Jr., had the old mark of 38 in 1997-98).
2. Irving, who already has 93 career points, is seventh all-time in Panther single season scoring and, with a big postseason, could conceivably reach second place (64 points, held by Billy LeClerc). But he's unlikely to break the one-year scoring mark of Billy 'Squeak' Gilligan, who had an amazing 84 points (46 goals) in 1971-72, when Beverly won 19 straight games en route to the North Shore League title and a trip to the Division 1 semifinals at the old Boston Garden.
3. Junior captain Joe Strangie of Danvers recorded his 75th career point with his third and final goal Monday vs. Haverhill in a 3-2 win. Strangie has four hat tricks this winter, more than anyone else on the North Shore. He'll be looking to help the Falcons beat Triton tomorrow night in their regular season finale and win their 16th game of the year; no team since the 2001-02 squad (17-3) has won that many.