Hockey Preseason Top 10
The additions of South Hadley and Agawam to the Berry League should make for a very interesting season. Division 3A is now comprised of the Tigers and the entire Fay-Wright, which will be up for grabs among three or four teams.
Since Cathedral plays at the highest level of high school hockey in the commonwealth, I will not include them in these rankings throughout the season. The Panthers are always the best team in western Mass.
My Top 10 will be updated weekly throughout the season, usually on Mondays.
1. Westfield - The defending state Division 3 champions lost the Bessone winner in Sean Spohr as well as superstar goalie Nick Liberto, but this program has established itself as the class of western Mass. (aside from Cathedral). The Bombers should be considered the favorite for a third straight sectional crown.
2. Agawam - The Brownies are coming off their first sectional title since 1987 as well as the state D3A championship. They petitioned and were granted the right to join D3 for postseason play. A border war between last year's respective state champions for the western Mass. title is a distinct possibility.
3. East Longmeadow - The Spartans were beaten by Westfield 7-0 in the sectional championship last year after taking down rival Longmeadow in overtime of the semis. After opening the season against Ludlow, they'll face a handful of eastern Mass. programs over the rest of December.
4. South Hadley - Despite being realigned into the Berry, the Tigers can only qualify for the D3A tournament. They will be hungry after losing in the sectional title game for the first time in five years. Coach John Houle's squad is young and talented up front, and has seasoned veterans on defense and in goal. Devin Hoagland is the top goalie in D3A.
5. West Springfield - The Terriers took Westfield to overtime before falling in last year's sectional semifinals. That bit of confidence could propel them into this campaign. This is a program on the rise that can compete strongly with anyone.
6. Easthampton - The Eagles returned to the tournament last season and suffered a difficult loss late in their quarterfinal. That piece of motivation will combine with a talented roster to form a major contender in D3A. First-liners Tim Pfau and Mike Grise are two of the top forwards in the area.
7. Wahconah Regional - The Warriors, who have struggled with their numbers in recent years, added Greylock and McCann to their cooperative program. The top team in the Berkshires is always a good bet to make the Division 3A semifinals.
8. Turners Falls - New coach Nate Coffin inherits a talented roster, led by senior forward Cody Booska. Goalie Brandon Bryant exploded onto the scene in last season's playoff loss to Agawam with 46 saves. If he plays that well all season, Turners could win the Fay-Wright.
9. Chicopee - Senior forward Nick Jablonski will lead the Pacers, who earned a tournament berth last season after missing out in 2012. This is another team that should be lifted by South Hadley and Agawam leaving for the Berry. A league title is within its grasp as well.
10. Longmeadow - The perennial powerhouse Lancers are coming off a disappointing season in which they went only .500 and lost to rival East Longmeadow in the sectional semifinals. We'll see how they respond early this season, as three of their first four games are against Cathedral, Agawam and Westfield.