January 25, 2014

HS Journal: Parity a great thing in Bay State girls hockey

By Matt Williams

Girls action between Natick and Dedham. (Photo by Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)


Girls hockey can be a sport of haves and have-nots, primarily because the top high school teams are usually head-and-shoulders above their relative competition. It seems true at the highest levels of the sport, where the USA and Canada regularly dominate the third best team in the world.

This winter in Massachusetts, however, the girls hockey scene has featured unprecedented parity. There seem to be as many as eight teams capable of winning the Division 1 state title, and that is a great thing for the growth of the sport.

Simply trying to decide which teams are ranked in what order is enough to give you an ice cream headache, given who's beaten who so far.

Defending Division 2 state champion Duxbury is 7-0-2 and is up in Division 1 this year. The team with the most wins in D1 is Beverly, which just upset defending state champion St. Mary's. The Panthers suffered their first loss this week, too, though to Andover. And to cap that sequence off, the Warriors are one of two teams that beat Arlington Catholic, the other team in last year's state final.

“There are a lot of good teams out there,” St. Mary's coach Frank Pagliuca said after last week's game against Beverly. Pagliuca's helped the Spartans win five state titles and coached some of the most dominant teams Massachusetts has ever seen, in any sport.

It would be a big mistake not to mention Acton-Boxboro, Reading and Austin Prep in the same boat as the five teams we highlighted as possible state title contenders. Then there's Winthrop, which is 9-2 and is playing against Beverly this week in a game that presents a chance for another team to jump into the fray.

People love greatness, and they love following a juggernaut to see just how many wins it can roll up in a row. But fans also love going to a game and not knowing who is going to win. That's been the case at so many girls hockey games this winter, and will continue to be as we roll towards the playoffs.

Almost every league should be a battle: In the CCL, Austin Prep, AC and St. Mary's will claw for points, while the Middlesex League has Reading rivaling Woburn. Even the upstart Northeastern Hockey League will pit Beverly against Winthrop.

The best teams playing each other is great for girls hockey, for fans and players alike.

“Games like this are going to make us better,” Beverly coach Brian Seabury said. “We want to play the best opponents because it helps the girls get ready for other good teams. In the long run, challenging games will make everybody better, and it seems like there are a lot of good teams out there that are really close to one another.”

For the first time, the D1 girls hockey tournament in Massachusetts will could resemble March Madness in unpredictability. The more good teams there are out there, the better.

Ice Chips

In Massachusetts, BC High continues to impress at No. 1. The Eagles have only allowed 13 goals all year against a tough schedule. At No. 2, we won't drop Malden Catholic for an out-of-state loss to Delbarton, New Jersey, especially after an absolutely eye-opening 8-2 win over Central Catholic. No. 3 Arlington Catholic also suffered its first loss, but it was to another out-of-state team, Bishop Guertin of N.H.

Meanwhile, in both Vermont and Maine we had a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup last week. Up North, Lewiston climbed to the top the old-fashioned way by beating Scarborough, 4-3, in a thriller. In Vermont, unbeaten and clear top dog Champlain Valley took care of No. 2 Essex 5-1.

In Connecticut, the top two teams hold the fort but Darien is up to No. 3 after East Catholic's loss to Simsbury.

For New Hampshire, Londonderry holds the top spot but it's really a top three. Salem has only lost once in state, and that was to St. Thomas, which itself is 7-1-1 in Granite State competition. Any of those three could emerge at No. 1 in the coming weeks, and Manchester Central is laying in the weeds a bit at 5-1. It's going to be a race in D1.

Not many changes in Rhode Island, either, where an out-of-state loss didn't hurt Bishop Hendricken based on body of work and a similar setback for Mount St. Charles. Keep an eye on undefeated foes Lincoln (10-0) and Cumberland (7-0) who are playing each other next Wednesday, Jan. 29 for the top spot in RI Division 2.

Power Rankings

To see which teams Matt has in the top 10 for each of the six states in New England, head to our High School Power Rankings page.

Twitter: @MattWilliams_SN
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