Wednesday, March 12, 2014
The South Hadley hockey team won’t bring its typical gaudy regular-season record into the Western Massachusetts Division 3A Tournament this year.
The Tigers, who were realigned into the Division 3 Berry Division this season, finished 6-10-4. But a 4-1-1 mark against Division 3A competition earned them a bid via the 70 percent rule.
An overwhelming advantage in the strength of schedule category of the Walker system pushed South Hadley to the No. 4 seed despite a .300 winning percentage.
“Our players aren’t used to losing much, but they handled it well this year, better than the coaches did,” Tigers coach John Houle said. “It never really shaked their confidence.”
The Tigers open tournament play Wednesday at 7:20 p.m. against No. 5 Chicopee (12-7-1) in the quarterfinals at The Olympia in West Springfield. South Hadley won a regular season meeting 6-2.
With the slate wiped clean, South Hadley sits just two wins from returning to the western Mass. final for the sixth consecutive season. After falling to Agawam in the championship in 2013, the Tigers seek their fifth sectional title in the last six seasons.
“All our players bring playoff experience, so they know what to expect,” Houle said. “Some of the other teams haven’t had many tournament games, so hopefully that’s an advantage.”
After winning only twice in their first 13 contests, the Tigers reeled off four of five from the end of January to the middle of February, including their only two league victories over East Longmeadow and West Springfield.
“We played a lot better toward the end of the season, once the guys got used to the size and speed of the Berry teams,” Houle said. “Playing against that competition should help us, but we’ll see.”
The Tigers had five double-digit scorers during the regular season. Junior Beau Kass posted team highs in goals (13), assists (12) and points (25). Jake Knowles (12) also reached double digits in goals, while Evan Sullivan had 20 points.
The seven-team field put further significance on gaining the top seed. No. 1 Greenfield (17-1-2) received a bye into the semifinal round March 3, when it will face the South Hadley-Chicopee winner.
“It’s huge to get the No. 1 seed, because we really only play eight skaters the majority of the games with help from two other guys,” coach Mike Duclos said. “So we really could use the rest. Our guys know what it takes to win, so having time off isn’t a concern.”
The Green Wave ran away with the Fay-Wright Division title and enters the postseason on a 12-game winning streak.
Greenfield’s back line is anchored by a trio of students from Smith Academy. Goalie Barrett Rogaleski returned to the team after taking a season off and has started every game for the Wave.
“Barrett is the best goalie in our league, and is just solid,” Duclos said. “We’re very confident with him in there.”
In front of their classmate are senior defensemen Cam Woodward (23 points) and Zack Langlois (38), who contribute heavily on both ends.
“Cam is awesome when he is on his game,” Duclos said. “He plays 35 of 45 minutes each game, kills penalties, plays on the power play. The only thing he doesn’t do is drive the bus. Zack is maybe the strongest player in our league, and he can play forward for us as well.”
Forwards Jourdan York-Welcome (27 goals, 48 points) and Jake Elwell (22, 33) are also among the top scorers in the tournament field.
A Greenfield-South Hadley semifinal would be a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal won by the Tigers 6-0.
“South Hadley is the team to beat, they’ve had a ton of success in this tournament,” Duclos said. “But our team is confident and very skilled, just not that deep. I feel we have all the ingredients needed to win western Mass.”
Returning to the tournament this season is No. 6 Belchertown (10-7-3), which won nine more games than in 2012-13.
The Orioles are set to take on No. 3 Chicopee Comp (10-6-4) in the quarterfinals Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Olympia.
In his first season as a varsity hockey coach, Matt Crutch instituted a defense-first philosophy that paid immediate dividends as the Orioles won five of their first 10 games.
A three-game losing streak, which included setbacks to tournament teams Chicopee and Greenfield, left Belchertown at 5-7-1 and outside the postseason picture. But the O’s have rebounded with a seven-game unbeaten streak to close the regular season.
“These guys are hungry after last year, so hopefully we can keep this thing rolling,” Crutch said. “For us it all starts in the defensive end. Once we take care of that, then we look for offense.”
Alex Bachand led the Orioles with 24 goals and 40 points, while linemate Tommy Daley added 26 points.
No. 7 Easthampton (9-7) had a rollercoaster of a season, never winning or losing more than two games in a row. The Eagles were 3-6 against other tournament teams.
After dropping its regular-season finale to Wahconah Regional 7-1 Friday night, the squads will meet again in a quarterfinal at 6 p.m. Thursday at The Olympia. The No. 2 Warriors (13-6-1) have won 10 straight.
“We knew we might see (Wahconah) again right away,” Eagles coach Greg Smith said. “They’re a good skating team with two balanced lines. It will be tough for us, but if we can get going we’ll have a good shot.”
Smith’s team has battled injuries all season, and the Eagles will be missing second-line center Zach Lewis because of a separated shoulder.
Leading scorer Mike Grise finished with 23 goals and 39 points. Fellow top-liner Tim Pfau posted 21 points.
Note: Semifinal games are Monday, March 3 and the final is set for Thursday, March 6 at 5:30 p.m. All tournament games will be at The Olympia.
Leonard, Cathedral return to Super 8
Amherst resident John Leonard and his Cathedral hockey team was awarded the No. 3 seed Saturday for the State Division 1A Super 8 Tournament.
The Panthers (15-2-5) will face No. 6 Duxbury in a best-of-3 quarterfinal series beginning March 2. The time and location are to be announced.
Leonard, a sophomore who’s second on the team with 26 goals, did not register a point in last year’s tournament as the Panthers were knocked out by eventual champion Malden Catholic.
Michael Wilkinson can be reached at email@example.com.