Both teams have been at or near the top of the Division 1 rankings all season. Both teams beat the other during the regular season. Both teams enter Sunday’s D1 state final off of a double overtime semifinal win.
Yes, there is not much to separate #1 St. John’s Prep (21-3-0) and #2 Xaverian (20-3-1) as the two Catholic Conference powers face off for the MIAA Division 1 state title Sunday night at TD Garden (7:45pm)
St. John’s Prep has 99 goals on the season. Xaverian has 92. Both have allowed 42 goals. Both have deep lineups and get scoring from a multitude of sources. With two teams so evenly matched, it could be the smallest detail, or lucky bounce of the puck, which will decide this one.
The Prep beat Xaverian at Canton Ice House on January 8th, and the Hawks returned the favor on January 26 in SJP’s home barn, the Essex Sports Center, taking a 2-0 win.
One might find it hard to believe that Xaverian is playing for its first-ever state hockey championship on Sunday. The Hawks come in with a lot of experience, boasting 16 seniors on the roster.
Xaverian opened up post-season play with a 4-0 shutout win over Andover, and followed with wins over St. Mary’s 4-2, Belmont in the quarterfinals, 2-1, and then Tuesday’s epic 5-4 2OT win over Arlington.
For the Hawks, senior Max Lockwood (10-17-27) centers one line between junior Joe DiMartino (12-8-20) and sophomore Jesse Peck (3-6-9). Another potent trio finds senior Jake Curley (4-7-11) centering senior Braden O’Hara (15-14-29) and senior captain Jack Silva (14-7-21), Tuesday’s overtime hero.
Junior Gavin Moynihan (7-12-19) and sophomore Will Irving (8-8-16) are two more players to watch up front.
Senior and Babson commit Nolan Dion (4-15-19) will be a key on coach Dave Spinale’s blue line. Senior captain Aiden Rodriguez (10 pts), senior Shane Heron and sophomore Cole LeBlanc will have key responsibilities as well. Senior Brendan Flanagan should get the call in goal.
“Similar to St. John’s Prep, this senior-laden team (Xaverian) can bring a heavy game and roll four lines,” said Malden Catholic coach Chris Kuchar, whose team played both teams twice this season. “The are aggressive on the forecheck and when pucks are reversed or put on the wall their defense will collapse with forward support making it difficult for teams to exit. On their forecheck and recoveries they will get the puck to the net from anywhere on the ice, creating chaos and opportunities in the offensive zone. Defensively, they are outstanding with 3-4 solid defensemen who can move the puck up ice, get into the play and join the rush, but can also play aggressive at their own blue line which makes entries difficult.”
The Prep beat King Philip 3-1, blanked Winchester 7-0, and then had one-goal wins over Braintree (3-2 in quarterfinals) and BC High (2-1 in 2 OT in the semifinals). In that semifinal win, the Eagles got the tying goal in the final minute of regulation.
The Eagles go four lines up front and boast seven players with 20 or more points, and two others with 19.
One unit has senior Pierce Blaeser (5-15-20) between his brother, junior Cole Blaeser (5-15-20) and senior captain Tommy Sarni (16-7-23).
Expect to see junior Jimmy Ayers (7-12-19) centering junior Will Van Sicklin (12-14-26) and junior Ben McGilvray (8-13-21). Another high scoring line has sophomore Christian Rosa (9-11-20) in the pivot with sophomore Jake Vana (14-12-26) and sophomore Cam Umlah (10 pts) on the wings.
On the blue line, junior Aidan Holland (4-15-19), who netted the game-tying goal in Tuesday’s semifinal, has been paired with senior Tommy Tilas. Senior captain Theo Vetere (11 pts) and senior Mike Shyjan form another pairiing, while a third grouping features seniors Jeff Melanson and Zach Raposa. Freshman Nick Brandano also will be in the mix defensively.
In goal, senior Peyton Palladino has been solid all season for coach Kristian Hanson.
“St. John’s Prep is a very skilled team and can roll four lines at you,” Kuchar said. “They are very good in transition through the neutral zone. Their defense will gap up and make plays at their blue line, allowing the forwards to transition to offense quickly. The Blaeser line is a very good line that hunts pucks well and can be relentless on their forecheck to create opportunities. Defensively they have some bigger players that can move pucks and also have active sticks defending in their own end.”
This game has the makings of a classic between two evenly-matched clubs.
“These are the two best teams our team faced all season,” Kuchar said. “Both teams are older with some size and strength to them. This game will be a track meet played primarily in transition and the neutral zone. Don’t expect to see a lot of ground-and-pound below the goal line. Both teams are fast and skilled and can make plays off the rush or from turnovers.”