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South Hadley hockey earns No. 2 seed in WMass tourney

The South Hadley hockey team enjoyed yet another successful regular season in 2012-13, but the program’s reputation has been built in the postseason.

Over the next two weeks, these younger Tigers can earn their championship stripes in the Western Massachusetts Division 3A Tournament.

“We’re young up front but our guys have stepped up and gotten some valuable experience,” coach John Houle said. “I think we’re ready for this challenge.”

The Tigers (14-3-3) received the No. 2 seed Saturday morning and begin the quest for their fifth straight sectional title Tuesday at 8 p.m. against No. 7 Greenfield (10-10) in the quarterfinals.

The semifinals are Monday, March 4, with the final set for Thursday, March 7 at 5:30 p.m. All tournament games will be played at The Olympia in West Springfield.

The Wright Division champions enter the tournament having lost only once in their last 16 contests. That one loss came to Division 3 East Longmeadow by a 3-1 score on Feb. 14.

After consecutive losses to Agawam and Wahconah in December put South Hadley at 2-2, the Tigers put together a record of 12-1-3, which included winning streaks of five and six games.

This Tigers squad has scoring talent, but is more of a defensive team with experienced defensemen and two-time champion backstop Devin Hoagland.

Hoagland posted three shutouts and allowed two or fewer goals in 17 of 20 games. The defensive unit of Jeff Beauregard, Brian Bak and Ben Kravetz assisted Hoagland in giving up just 35 tallies. However, Kravetz will not play in the playoffs because of a leg injury.

“That’s a tough loss for us and it puts some more pressure on Devin, but he can definitely handle it,” said Houle. “We expect him to play well. Success in the playoffs is all about defense and goaltending, which is our strength this season. We don’t score as much as we have in the past, but we don’t give up as many.”

Offensively, South Hadley hit its stride in midseason and is much more balanced this year with eight players contributing double-digit points, led by leading scorers freshman Evan Sullivan and sophomore Beau Kass.

Another local entry comes into the playoffs with considerable momentum but zero playoff experience. No. 5 Easthampton (9-4-5) earned its first tournament berth since 2009.

“The one thing we lack is tournament experience, but really we’ve been in a tournament mode for a few weeks because we’ve had to win,” coach Greg Smith said. “Our guys are excited about this opportunity, and in the end it’s a hockey game. They’ll probably have more nerves, but once the puck drops they’ll be fine.”

Easthampton plays No. 4 Wahconah Regional (14-4-2) Thursday at 6 p.m. The Eagles and Warriors did not meet during the regular season.

After a 2-2-3 start, the Eagles finished 7-2-2 over their final 11 games.

The Eagles boast one of the best lines in the area with senior captain Rob Carmel (31 points), junior Tim Pfau (team-high 16 goals) and sophomore newcomer Mike Grise (leads team with 18 assists and 33 points).

“Those three guys really started to click around the midway point of the season,” Smith said. “They know where each other is on the ice, they make tape-to-tape passes, and all of them can finish. And our second line’s been playing really well lately, so we bring more than just one line.”

Senior goalie Matt Sarafin compiled a record of 9-3-3 with a .927 save percentage, while defensemen Alex Zadworny and Andrew Fleming are strong in both the defensive and attacking ends.

No. 8 Turners Falls (10-8-2) made the tournament for the second straight season, but the Indians must face top-seeded Agawam (15-3-2) in a Thursday quarterfinal at 8 p.m.

Turners is led by two of the area’s top scorers: Cody Booska (44 points) and Trevor Peduzzi (41). Frontier student Brandon Bryant has assumed the starting goalie spot after Will Miller needed to fill in a skating spot due to injuries.

The favorite Brownies are undefeated against Division 3A competition this season, but needed a last-second goal on Jan. 23 to salvage a tie with South Hadley.

Panthers second in Super 8

Cathedral (16-1-4) came up one goal short of an undefeated regular season after a 1-0 loss to two-time defending state champion Malden Catholic in Thursday’s final of the Cathedral Hockey Classic.

The Panthers received the No. 2 seed behind only St. John’s Prep (17-2-1) at the Super 8 selection meeting Saturday at MIAA headquarters in Franklin. This marks the fifth straight year Cathedral has made the 10-team field.

Freshman John Leonard of Amherst, a left wing on the Panthers’ second line, is second on the team with 15 goals and is among the team leaders with 23 points.

“We had a great regular season,” Leonard said. “Losing a game was disappointing, but we can’t let it get to us. With Super 8 coming up, we have to bounce back and put up some wins.”

Junior netminder Adam Mercer of Belchertown has a 5-0 record with one shutout and sports a .948 save percentage as a capable backup to standout John Liquori.

Freshman Matt Deloria of South Hadley scored a goal with an assist during the regular season.

Michael Wilkinson can be reached at mwilkinson@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @mjwilk1237.

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