March 7, 2014

HS Journal: Time to give Middlesex League its due

By Matt Williams

Wilmington High won the Division 2 state championship in 2012. (Photo: Joe Brown Digital Photography)

We’ll be the first ones to admit that we had a hard time figuring out what to make of the Middlesex League in Massachusetts boys hockey this season.

There were a total of 18 ties in league games (11 in the Freedom Division and another seven in the Liberty Division) and that made it difficult to discern who the top teams were. The league’s championship races went down to the wire, which was exciting, but left no clear frontrunner in terms of a Super 8 candidate or top-10 team.

The results of the state tournament so far indicate that it wasn’t parity born in mediocrity as we might have thought. It was parity seeded in strength.

The Division 1 North boys hockey tournament might as well have been the Middlesex League Invitational these last two weeks. The league boasted three of the final four squads in the bracket, with Reading and Wilmington advancing to the D1 North final being played Monday at Tsongas Center.

One semifinal was an All-Middlesex affair as defending D2 champ Wilmington took out Arlington, 3-2 in overtime. The Wildcats are up to D1 this year, and finished third in the Freedom Division in the regular season. Their goaltender, Drew Foley, is now 13-0 in his varsity career in the postseason, including back-to-back overtime wins this year.

Reading, which won the Liberty Division but had a tough non-league record and ended up seeded 12th, knocked off Super 8 candidate Arlington Catholic in the first round and beat a Middlesex League foe in the second round in Melrose.

In the semis, they took out the tournament’s No. 1 seed in St. Mary’s. Arlington beat both St. John’s Prep and St. John’s Shrewsbury. Virtually very team thought of as a possible favorite going into the tournament has fallen to a Middlesex League club.

In the playoffs, regarding the Middlesex League, it’s been lesson learned. The league may have missed out on a Super 8 invite for the first time, but we wouldn’t rule out the possibility of their teams taking not one, but two, state titles next weekend at TD Garden.

Playoff updates

Rhode Island: The state playoffs get underway this weekend with Bishop Hendricken facing Smithfield in a best-of-3 semifinal. Mount Saint Charles and La Salle face off in the other semi-final, with the best-of-3 final series being decided after that.

Division 2 features an eight team bracket with Cumberland seeming to be the team to beat. There are four others in D1, where Cranston/Coverntry are up on one semifinal series, and Barrington/Burriville have the other.

Maine: It wouldn’t be March without a run by St. Dominic’s, and they’re at it again with a trip to the Class A finals where they face Falmouth. St. Dom’s had to knock off local rival Bangor in the Class A East finals to get there, while Falmouth took out Scarborough in the West. Bangor had handled St. Dom’s, 5-3 and 6-1 during the regular season, but St. Dom’s got the last laugh.

Undefeated Messalonskee (20-0) will face Gorham in the Class B final.

Vermont: The brackets have gone according to plan in both the Lake and Metro Divisions. No. 1 Champlain Valley is facing Essex in the Metro championship game and top-seed Middlebury takes on No. 2 Stowe in the Lake title tilt.

Twitter: @MattWilliams_SN