WMass. Top 10: Minnechaug is next team up at No. 1

Fran Sypek
Fran Sypek
Fran has covered hockey at all levels, NHL, AHL, junior, college and high school for the Springfield Republican from 1978-2013. His column "Hockey Talk'' appeared in the Sunday Republican. The hockey beat took him from Maine to Arizona in the United States and from Newfoundland to Alberta in Canada. Fran was the recipient of the Matthew Ryan Award for Outstanding Coverage of High School Hockey and the Janet McCormick Award from the Springfield Olympics. He then shifted from pros to college when the University of Massachusetts restored its program and joined Hockey East. Later, he continued covering the Boston Bruins and the Springfield Falcons. Fran's covered future NHL players from Western Massachusetts in Paul Fenton, Bob Kudelski, Rick Bennett and Bill Guerin. He is a member of the Bessone Award committee, which helps select the top high school hockey player in Western Mass. Fran was a goalie for Holyoke Community College in 1973-74 and graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1977. Fran is currently a free lance writer living in Bondsville, Mass and grew up in Chicopee, Mass, has visited all 50 states, and is an avid photographer.

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Western Mass. Top 10 Poll

RankTeam[tooltip text="PR*" gravity="ne"]Previous Ranking[/tooltip]WLT
1Minnechaug21220
2Longmeadow31040
3E. Longmeadow1941
4Westfield4581
5Amherst71013
6Chicopee Comp51032
7Chicopee7930
8Wahconah8931
9West Springfield9491
10BelchertownNR632

Who’s No. 1? This week, it’s Minnechaug, the third team to stake its claim to the top spot in the weekly poll. The No. 1 Falcons have been the most consistent team in the Berry Division. No. 2 Longmeadow moved up one spot, and previous No. 1 East Longmeadow dropped to third.

That’s the way things are shaping up in the competitive Berry Division. As teams head for the stretch run, those three teams figure to wage a fierce battle for first place.

No. 4 Westfield, which still has one of the region’s best defensive teams, can’t be counted out come tournament time. Last season’s Sectional Champion and State Finalist Agawam, may not even qualify for the tournament.

Minnechaug has shown the ability to erase deficits and rally for come-from-behind victories. The latest was a tight-checking 3-2 decision over Westfield in which the Falcons saw themselves on a short end of a 2-0 score Seniors Liam Walsh and Nate Champagne are both playing solid defense for the Falcons.

Michael Tabb celebrates tying goal in the third period of Longmeadow's 4-2 win over CMass foe Wachusett. (Fran Sypek photo)
Michael Tabb celebrates tying goal in the third period of Longmeadow’s 4-2 win over CMass foe Wachusett. (Fran Sypek photo)

The win was gratifying for the Falcons – Westfield eliminated Minnechaug from the Western Massachusetts Division 3 tournament last season in the semifinals. It was also Minnechaug’s second win this season over Westfield. That has not happened in more than a decade.

Goalie Aleks Vanderleeden is on fire. Since a setback to Longmeadow on Dec. 26, he has a .938 save percentage over seven games, allowing only 11 goals during that span, and his .924 overall save percentage leads all goalies in the region.

Longmeadow’s Jack Tabb only started playing goal two years ago. He strapped on the pads because his team needed someone to stop the puck. Had he thought of himself rather than his team, this year’s Longmeadow team might not have been so successful.

Longmeadow secured a tournament berth Saturday following a come-from-behind 4-2 victory over visiting Wachusett. The Lancers overcame a 2-1 deficit by scoring three times during the third period, including two by Michael Tabb. Jack Tabb made 15 saves in one of the Lancers’ best defensive efforts this season. Nick Santaniello scored the game-winning goal at 5:29 of the final period.

No. 5 Amherst leapfrogged over No. 6 Chicopee Comp after the Hurricanes edged the reigning Division 3A champion Colts, 3-2. Nathan Masteralexis scored two goals, and set up the game-winning goal in the third period by Nick Freniere.

Parker Nunes had 35 saves for the Colts. The Hurricanes were able to shut down the Colts’ high-scoring duo of Jeremy Lewis and Cam Kagan. Penalty killing was the key to the win. Amherst negated all six of Comp’s power plays, including three during the final period.

Lewis scored his 100th career goal in a 9-2 win over Easthampton. He has 15 points over Comp’s last three games. Amherst secured a spot in the tournament with a win over Greenfield.

No. 7 Chicopee continues to get strong play from Jeff Zebrowski. No. 8 Wahconah snapped a two-game losing streak with a win over No. 9 West Springfield. West, in the midst of a difficult schedule, dropped a pair of games this week. No. 10 Belchertown had a strong week to get back into the poll.

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