A pair of Merrimack Valley/Dual County 3 teams sit at the top of the Division 3 North bracket entering the 2019-20 postseason. But is a former team from that tier of the MVC/DCL, Lowell, that is defending champion and is back looking for a repeat as the rest of the pack tries to knock the Red Raiders from their perch.
Here is a look at the 13-team field:
No. 1 Bedford (15-3-2): The Buccaneers enjoyed a resurgence under veteran coach Brian Seabury, in his first season after previously coaching girls hockey.
Senior center James Demeo (23-22-45) once again lit up the scoresheet, becoming the program’s all-time leading scorer during the season. But he had help from junior forward Bobby Marcus (10-15-25), senior center Brendan Vaughn (7-13-20), junior defenseman Adam Driscoll (4-9-13) and senior defenseman Sam Mortensen (1-8-9). Sophomore T.J. Mead had a 1.50 GAA in net for the Merrimack Valley/Dual County 3 champions.
“I think any first-round matchup will be a tough one, but I like our kids and we will be ready to go,” Seabury said. “The bracket is wide open, anyone can make the finals. We just need to continue to do what we do well.”
No. 2 Cambridge (13-2-4): There isn’t much doubt who has been the key player this season for the Falcons, as senior forward Thomas McGaffigan has led the way with 51 points, although junior forward Luc Denney (42) isn’t far behind. McGaffigan passed 100 career points during the season.
Senior forward Anthony Caterina (27 points) and senior defenseman Andrew McGaffigan (30 points) also have added timely scoring for Cambridge, which suffered both losses to Bedford.
“I think our team is in a good place,” Falcons coach Mark Marfione said. “We are going to have to high-paced practices this week in preparation for Sunday (vs. Newton South or Hamilton-Wenham).”
No. 3 Shawsheen (13-6-1): The Rams once again were the top team in the Commonwealth Athletic Conference, which earned them a high seed and first-round bye.
Led by senior alternate captain Nathan Silva (19-31-50), the Rams averaged nearly five goals a game during the regular season. Senior J.J. Thibert (20-15-35), sophomore Dylan Timmons (9-17-26), junior Sean Murphy (8-14-22) and junior Anthony Papa (10-11-21) are the other top scoring forwards for coach Chuck Baker.
The defense has been led by seniors D.J. Williams (5-10-15), Brady McFadden (2-5-7) and Chance Fitzgerald (3-6-9), as well as juniors D.J. Ducharme (3-7-10) and Jonah Varallo (1-5-6). Senior Kameron Neault has seen most of the action in goal.
No. 4 Essex Tech (11-4-5): The Hawks finished just behind Shawsheen in the CAC standings, a significant success under veteran coach Mark Leonard in his first season behind the bench.
A big key has been the play of senior goalie Jared McLaughlin, as the Hawks allowed only 1.40 goals per game. McLaughlin was named Commonwealth Athletic MVP.
Sophomore David Egan and senior Chris Grout are the top forwards, led by senior captain Nick Ippolito. Senior captain Jake Krajeski and senior alternate captains Cameron Burns and Nick Lennon lead the defense in front of McLaughlin. Ippolito, Krajeski and Egan were league all-stars along with sophomore forward Jon Daley.
“To be honest, I would say that we have not seen the best from our team yet, meaning three complete periods,” Vlachos said. “I am hoping that we will see that in the playoffs, because we will have to perform at our best to go deep in the playoffs.”
Vlachos said the team hasn’t forgotten last year’s quarterfinal loss, and that they aren’t taking their higher seed this season for granted. Having balanced offense across three lines will be key.
Senior Keith Ricci (12-5-17) and senior captain Brendan King (3-13-16) have been the top forwards, but Watertown’s trademark has been at the other end. Senior captain Kevin Greene has a 1.88 GAA, .940 save percentage and five shutouts, supported by the defense of junior captain Nick DiPace (4-7-11), junior captain Anthony Diallo (1-6-7), freshman Jack Dickie (5-10-15) and freshman Vinnie Wolff (2-4-6).
No. 6 Latin Academy (11-7-2): The Dragons captured another Boston City League championship, and hope to carry that momentum into the postseason.
Coach Patrick Mudie’s team will be led by senior captain Ryan Prendergast and freshman Austin Kelly on defense, as well as sophomore Aidan Farley and junior captain Brendan Butler up front. Senior Andrew Sahatjian is in net as LA gets ready to face Northeast in its opener.
“(We) match up pretty evenly and had a close regular-season game,” Mudie said, noting the Dragons prevailed, 4-2, earlier this season.
No. 7 Newton South (11-8-1): After playing three straight games last season against Merrimack Valley/Dual County opponents, coach Chris Ryberg and the Lions are looking forward to squaring off with an unfamiliar Hamilton-Wenham squad, but believes they are ready for the challenge.
“We have some great senior leadership, all with tournament experience,” Ryberg said. “We had a pretty strong finish to the season, and like the position we are in.”
Senior Eric Donlan (13-13-26) and junior Tim Dobies (9-3-12) are the top forwards, with the defense led by a pair of seniors – captain Alex Klapes (3-10-13) and Michael DeFranco (6-9-15). Junior Lucas Maregni is a three-year starter in net for the Lions.
No. 8 Somerville (10-7-3): The Highlanders made history in the return of the Greater Boston League, winning the championship by beating Everett in the final week, and also transition into Div. 3 North after playing in Div. 2 a year ago, losing to Boston Latin.
Coach Kevin Wilson called the season “a tale of two halves offensively” – noting that senior Austin Pacheco carried much of the scoring load early. But the contributions of underclassmen Nathan Doe, Nicky Ciccerone, Cosmo Curtatone, Jake MacDonald and Aiden O’Donovan have been key down the stretch.
“Some of those guys have been with us since their eighth-grade year, and the maturity in their game is really showing through now that that have played a couple of seasons at the varsity level,” Wilson said.
Senior Joe Carey and junior Josh Amarol are the defensive stalwarts.
“This year, with our younger guys having another year of experience under their belts, we want to get out of the first round and see how far we can go,” Wilson said. “Although our roster remains young, we were able to accomplish our first two goals by winning the GBL and qualifying for the tournament. We are excited to try to check off our third goal on Thursday.”
No. 9 Lowell (9-7-4): The Red Raiders may have moved up Division 2 in the Merrimack Valley/Dual County League during the season, but they are back to defend their Division 3 North title.
“Playing in the MVC/DCL 2 gave us the chance to play in a lot of close games against very good teams,” Lowell coach Brian Akashian said. “We have been tested all season and I am hoping it will pay dividends as we enter the tournament.”
The Red Raiders have been sparked offensively by seniors Brendan DeMarco (17-11-28) and Owen Goulette (15-8-23), as well as junior Shawn Spring (8-17-25). Junior goalie Jake Vieira (2.71 GAA, .904 SP) has been strong in net.
No. 10 Hamiton Wenham (10-8-2): After a decade’s absence from the tournament, which included a hiatus from varsity play, the Generals are back in the postseason for the third straight season under coach Robert Ryan.
Senior captain Keegan O’Shea and forwards Matt Dearborn and Colby Guyer have been among the top players this season for the Generals, along with defenseman Luke McClintock. Finn Brophy has been strong as the regular starter in net.
No. 11 Northeast (10-9-1): The Golden Knights are one of the most experienced teams in the bracket, qualifying for the postseason for the eighth straight season for coach Jeremy Scafidi.
Senior forward Pat Maloney is a captain and top scorer, leading the way along with fellow senior captain Patrick McIntyre. The Knights also have gotten contributions from sophomore Macklin Hudon and freshman Pat Cotter.
Senior captain Paul Morrissey mans the net for Northeast.
No. 12 Rockport (9-8-3): The Vikings have enjoyed a nice turnaround under 2015 alum Kyle Nelson in his first season, reaching the tournament for the first time in seven seasons.
“Overall, we are right where we want to be after only winning four games a year ago, but we aren’t done yet,” Nelson said.
Senior right wing Andrew Guelli (10-11-21), junior center Rowan Silva (6-11-17) and senior left wing Johnny Andrew (9-3-12) have sparked Rockport, while senior Cal Twombly (.906 SP, 2.30 GAA) has been solid in net. Silva is a captain along with seniors A.J. Curcuru and Billy Garlick.
“If we play our game, we’ve proven we can play with anyone,” Nelson said.
No. 13 Swampscott (9-11-0): The Big Blue qualified for the tournament by winning the Northeastern Conference South championship, and will try to battle their way out of the bottom of the bracket.
“I believe our regular-season schedule against mostly D2 teams will benefit us as we prep for the tournament,” Swampscott coach Gino Faia said. “We will be relying on our top scorers for goals … but need to play better as a team defensively if we have any hopes of advancing.”
Senior Conor Donovan (23-23-46) and senior captain Drew Olivieri (20-23-43), both NEC All-Stars, have driven the Swampscott offense all season. Junior defenseman Liam Locke (8-15-23) and freshman forward Ronan Locke (5-12-17) have added scoring, and Liam Locke has been one of the key blueliners along with senior captain Chris Barnes and senior Tyler Seller (5-5-10). Freshman Jack Russo (3.09 GAA) and junior Ian Roddie (3.00) both have gotten significant action in goal.