It’s 2010, and the new calendar year brings with it the 31st Flyers Cup Scholastic Championships, and the possibility for new dynasties to emerge in the high school hockey world.
La Salle could solidify their recent dynastic reign with a third straight Flyers Cup AAA win, but unlike in past seasons the Explorers are not the heavy favorite to capture a Cup.
Holy Ghost Prep has the #1 seed and the Firebirds are just three years removed from a trip to the Pennsylvania State Championship. Seniors Paul Burns, Mike Purowitz and Tommy Seravalli were all on the 2007 roster that won the AAA title.
In the AA ranks, Council Rock South is in position to double up on its Flyers Cup win last season. The Hawks went undefeated this year, all the way through the SHSHL playoffs, in garnering the #1 seed. CR South returns with a lot of last season's weapons and looks ready to defend with gusto.
At class 'A', West Chester Henderson earned the #1 seed, and like Holy Ghost at AAA, last saw glory in 2007. Five freshmen from the Warriors' 2007 team hope to recapture the brass ring as seniors. Drew Zucker, Andrew Kornet, Stephen Matthews along with goalies Brian Kerchner and Owen Cunningham will look for a second championship to bookend their high school hockey careers.
The AAA division seeds itself, with the top seven teams from the Red division taking the top seven slots. The three best teams from the Blue division have rounded out the field of 10.
#10 Conwell-Egan was a dominant hockey program in the 1990’s. The Eagles have struggled in recent years, however, to put a pure team on the ice. This year they are back, and their efforts have paid off with the Eagles' first Flyers Cup bid in years. The Eagles boast three 20-goal scorers in Evan Burns, Chris Cashin and Kyle Jennings. The problem may lie in the team's depth chart. With only 10 rostered skaters, how will they fare against #7 St. Joseph’s Prep? The Prep had trouble finding the net this year, scoring just 16 goals in 11 AAA league games. But they have one of the best goaltenders in HS hockey in Paul Sjostrom, which should help balance out the offensive punch on the other side. I’ll take the Hawks to advance in a low-scoring affair.
The other play-in game will pit #8 Roman Catholic against #9 Monsignor Bonner. In their two regular season games, Roman handled Bonner 9-0 and 7-2. I see no reason for any miracles here. Roman should hold form and win a 5-1 game. With a win against Bonner, Roman would then face #1 Holy Ghost. A daunting task, one might think. After all, outside of La Salle, only one other team was able to beat Ghost all year. That team: Roman! Not just a win, but a 5-1 spanking behind goalie Steve Procopio’s 24-save effort. This time out, I don’t think Ghost will be taking the game lightly. In fact, I assume it is circled on the calendar already. Ghost comes out with vengeance on its mind and skates away with a 4-2 win.
#4 Archbishop Ryan had success against #5 Malvern Prep this season. The Raiders won their first meeting 6-2 and, thanks to two third period Malvern goals, the more recent contest ended in a 4-4 tie. I’ll take the home team in this one. Make it 4-3, Ryan. #2 La Salle awaits the winner of St. Joe’s Prep and Conwell-Egan. Whichever team advance figures to be in for a long night against the Explorers. Prep kept two games with La Salle close, behind brilliant Sjostrom efforts, however the Hawks only managed one goal in the two games combined. La Salle by three or four goals.
#6 Father Judge will head to the Skatium to play #3 Cardinal O’Hara. O’Hara dominated Judge this season winning both games by a combined 15-3 score. Steve Falcone made a living against Judge this year, netting six of his 10 goals this season in the two games against the Crusaders. But, there was a wrench thrown into this equation. O’Hara may be playing this game without six or seven impact players due to late season suspensions. If that’s the case there may be a huge upset here. I’ll go with O’Hara in a tight one.
Holy Ghost against Ryan will also settle bragging rights as top dog in the LBCSHL. The Holy Ghost administration pulled the Firebirds from the annual Lower Bucks Commissioner's Cup tourney after some heated on-ice incidents with Ryan this year. Hopefully these two talented teams stick to hockey and give the fans the game they deserve. I suspect they will, and I see Ghost coming away with a 5-2 victory.
That would leave just La Salle and O’Hara to do battle in the second semifinal. Talk about two evenly matched teams. They skated to a 4-4 tie in December and a 3-3 tie to cap off the season in February. Shots on goal were close as well, offering further evidence that neither team has a clear advantage over the other. The O’Hara staff is no stranger to Flyers Cup success, as they brought home the AAA hardware in 2006. La Salle, however, has rostered players that have won championships. In the toughest game to call in the bracket, I’ll go with La Salle by a goal.
La Salle and Ghost eluded each other in last season’s Flyers Cup, but they do have quite a (recent) history. Three years ago saw Ghost knock off La Salle in overtime of the semis en route to their first AAA Flyers Cup. Two seasons ago, La Salle garnered their third ever AAA Cup by beating Ghost 4-1 at the Spectrum. Tommy Seravalli, Nick Cruice and Steve Berardi were all major players in that game, and all three should be on the ice should their teams make the finals. In the first-ever Flyers Cup game at the Wachovia Center, Ghost will end the La Salle streak at two, with a 4-3 victory.
The AA play-in round gets underway on Friday, March 12. #20 North Penn snuck into the tourney after rolling through the last quarter of their season. The final stretch saw the Knights beat #10 C.B. East and tie #1 Council Rock South and #8 C.B. South in finishing the season unbeaten in their final five games. Make no mistake - this team is not the same team that went to the AA finals last season. Nearly the entire roster has been replaced. Their first-round opponent, #13 Parkland, went undefeated and unchallenged in Lehigh Valley Scholastic Hockey League play this season. But the Trojans have had undefeated seasons before, yet own no Flyers Cup wins. In fact, the LVSHL has recorded just one Flyers Cup victory in its history, when Northampton defeated Central Dauphin in 2008. These two teams battled it out in the pre-season with Parkland coming out on top. NP is hot now, but I think this is the year that the Trojans stake their claim to a Flyers Cup win.
#14 Conestoga will host #19 Abington. The Ghosts are coming off an abysmal 2008-09 campaign. However, this year's squad under first year head coach Andrew Ducko is headed in the right direction. Abington relies heavily on the trio of Keith Richardson, Jimmy McKee and Tyler Moll, as the three accounted for 65% of Abington’s goals this season. As for ‘Stoga, 18 of their 60 goals came from Alex Smith, who is questionable for the tournament due to an injury. Smith’s offense will be missed as no other Pioneer has more than nine goals on the season. ‘Stoga took #15 Souderton of the SHSHL lightly last year and paid for that with an early exit as the #2 seed. I don’t think they’ll make that mistake again this year. Conestoga in a nail-biter.
Souderton has garnered the #15 seed for the second straight season. They did some damage last year, winning two games and knocking off #2 seed Conestoga in an overtime thriller. #18 Central Dauphin is a well-coached team that is no stranger to Flyers Cup action. This has the makings of a good game. If Souderton has all of their guns, they should come away with a win.
#16 Pennridge against #17 Eastern Regional is a much more intriguing game than it looks on paper. The Vikings play a run-and-gun style and rely on their speedy forwards to control the puck and keep it out of the defensive zone, where they struggle. The Rams will play a trapping defense, rely on their smarts and patience, and then pounce on any Eastern mistakes in the neutral and defensive zones. Very contrasting styles of hockey here and I’m curious to see which one will prevail. Whichever team comes out of that game will have the privilege of playing #1 Council Rock South. Pennridge played CR South twice this year, losing a forgettable 7-2 affair, and a much closer 3-1 game more recently. Nonetheless, I don’t see either Pennridge or Eastern knocking off CR South in the Hawks' first game.
Staying in the top half of the bracket, #9 Boyertown will travel to Warwick to face #8 C.B. South. South won the Continental division of the SHSHL. They were led by a foursome of goal scorers in Dan Pulse and Kevin Carter (20 each) Nick Gibson (16) and Tom Doughety (14). Boyertown comes in with just one 10 goal scorer, Robert Weinberger, but the Bears boast a very stingy defense that gave up less than three goals per game behind goalie Jake Evan. This may be the best game of the first full round. I’ll go with South in a hard-hitting affair.
#5 Washington Township and #12 Cherokee are on opposite ends of the Flyers Cup spectrum. Township has had good success recently in the 'Cup and has become a team that no one wants to play. Cherokee, on the other hand, has lost by an average of 10 goals in the past two Flyers Cups. If Cherokee comes to play, they can give Township headaches, as is apparent by a pair of ties between the two teams in the regular season (4-4 and 1-1), and the Chiefs' 2-0 playoff win most recently. Which Cherokee team will show up? I don’t know, so I’ll go with history and the Minutemen.
In the last game of the top half, #4 Pennsbury awaits the winner of Parkland / North Penn. The Falcons have been very disappointing in the past two Flyers Cups, dropping games as heavy favorites while holding the #1 seed. This year's team is more balanced and doesn’t rely on one or two players to do all of the scoring. I think they will get out of the funk, and without the pressure of being the top dog they will advance.Undefeated Downingtown East may have conceded the #1 seed to defending champion Council Rock South, but the Cougars are not to happy about being passed up for the #2 seed in favor of Council Rock North. The #3 Cougars are for real. They’re good, they play in a tough league and now they’re mad. The winner of Abington/Conestoga won’t be celebrating long as 'East figures to make a statement in this game.
#11 Ridley has had it’s ups and downs this year, but they finished 'up' the season with five straight games without a loss. #6 Cumberland Valley might have gone undefeated in the CPIHL, but in two games against Methacton and Perkiomen Valley of the ICSHL, they lost. I’ll go with Ridley in an upset, 5-2. #7 Avon Grove will host #10 C.B. East. AG is built on defense and goaltending. Kevin Propst is holding down a 2.47 GAA, while only Nick Shrewsbury (13) and Tom Cooney (10) reached double-digit goal totals. While 15 different players contributed with goals for the Patriots, none of them cracked double digits. Bobby Destefano and Nick Patullo each scored nine times for East. This has the makings of a low-scoring nail-biter. I’ll go with East in a mild upset.
Souderton played #2 'Rock North twice this year. The first contest wasn’t close, a 7-1 North win. Souderton gave North a game the second time around and only lost by a goal at 3-2. In a battle of the Indians, I’ll take North 4-1. In the quarter finals, I’m just picking the winners: 'Rock South over C.B. South, Washington Twp. edges out Pennsbury (third time in four years), Downingtown East rolls Ridley and 'Rock North beats C.B. East.
The semifinals would pit #1 Rock South against #5 Washington Twp. It’s a long haul to Hatfield from South Jersey so “bus legs” could be a factor. I’ll take South in a face-paced, high scoring game. #3 Downingtown East is chomping at the bit for #2 Council Rock North. Two goalies in the hunt for Breakaway! Goalie of the Year, Ryan Lord of East and Jesse Goldberg of North will do battle. Whoever makes the first mistake is going home. This has the makings for game of the year! East advances to the Finals. Council Rock South and Downingtown East are two undefeated teams that could potentially meet in the finals. They met last year in the quarter finals with South edging out a 3-2 win. Both goalies are back in Lord and David Chiokadze. I think this is the year of the Cougar, 4-2 Downingtown East!
In the “A” play-in round, the #20 Newark Yellow Jackets draw #13 Penncrest. While largely unknown, Newark does have a legitimate sniper in Mike Davis. Besides leading his high school team in scoring, Davis also led the Philadelphia Little Flyers Midget AAA squad in scoring. That in itself should give Penncrest reason to worry. But the Lions have their fair share of talent as well. Matt Menta, the 2009 Breakaway! Freshman of the Year, led the Lions in scoring with 27 points. Davis’ Little Flyers' teammate, Anthony Pino, is right behind Menta with 24 points and can offer coach Steve Mescanti a scouting report on Davis. The Lions won back-to-back Flyers Cups in 2005 and 2006, and they will be prepared for anything Newark has to throw at them. Expect Penncrest to advance.
#17 Marple Newtown started the season at 3-1-0 and made into the Breakaway! Scholastic Top 10. It was downhill after that, with the Tigers garnering just three more wins the rest of the way. #16 Upper Dublin handled most of the weaker teams on its schedule but struggled against Flyers Cup teams. The Cardinals lost to Perkiomen Valley and lost three times to Wissahickon, while winning two of three with Hatboro-Horsham, each in one-goal games. Both teams struggled at times, but strength of schedule goes with Marple. I’ll take the Tigers to advance.
#19 Quakertown will travel to Hatfield to face former SHSHL rival, #14 Wissahickon. These teams are not strangers to each other and as I remember, Wissahickon got the better of the Panthers when the two were playing in the same division. Wissahickon in a close one. #15 Kennett is only a few years removed from a trip to the finals against West Chester Henderson. Hatboro-Horsham is making its first trip to the show in quite a few years. Like Marple, The Blue Demons benefit from playing a tougher schedule than the Hatters and they hold home ice advantage. Kennett, 4-1.
This brings us to the round of 16. The #1 seed was up for grabs, and any of the top three seeds could have been given the top spot. In the end, it went to W.C. Henderson. The Warriors will draw the winner of Marple/Upper Dublin. Unlike the recent run-and-gun Warrior teams, this team prides itself on defense. Allowing just 40 goals in 19 games gave them the stingiest GAA in the Ches-Mont league, right behind Downingtown East. Henderson by a handful of goals.
#8 Haverford High is no stranger to Flyers Cup success. That success came at the AA level however. With the shuffling of schools based on new enrollment figures, the Fords find themselves amongst many of their Central League rivals at the A level. #9 Cinnaminson is paced by five scorers with 10+ goals. Eric McDowell led the charge with 20 goals and 46 points. Haverford is giving up just two goals a game this year and have gotten by with defense and goaltending. Chris Treat and Chris Mullen have split time in net and have combined to post six shutouts for the Fords. Haverford, 3-1.
Downingtown West earned a #12 seed despite a 6-12-1 record. A tough schedule weighed heavily in their favor. 'West and their opponent, #5 Springfield, are very capable defensive teams. West struggled to find offense against Springfield, and goals don’t figure to come easy this time, either. The Cougars rely on three players for goals, Brawley, Murray and McGugan. After that, it's anyone's guess who will step up. Dan Straube is the X-Factor in net for the Cougars, as he led the Central League in both GAA (1.69) and save percentage. Springfield 2-1.
#4 Unionville will play host to Penncrest or Newark. There seems to be something wrong with the Indians. They’ve won just one game (Great Valley) in their last five contests, after starting the season at 12-1-0. Penncrest is a good team and if they smell blood they’ll pounce all over Unionville. If Penncrest gets by Newark, I suspect a huge upset here with the Lions snatching a 3-1 victory from the Indians.
#3 Methacton will play Quakertown or Wissahickon. No drama here, Methacton will cruise to victory by at least four goals against either of these opponents.
#11 Radnor will head up the Turnpike to face #6 Hershey. The Trojans are not as strong as they have been traditionally. Radnor’s stock is on the rise lately. If the Raiders can shake off the “bus legs” in time for the opening face-off, I think they can pull off an upset here.
#7 Bayard Rustin and #11 Lower Dauphin will face off for the first time since the 2007 Flyers Cup. Rustin won that game 4-3 while the teams compiled 25 penalties between them. The fact that LD hasn’t gotten out of the first round of the Flyers Cup for at least the past three seasons has to be weighing on the Falcons. Rustin is far from the team they were a year ago when they captured a State Championship, but if the goaltending holds up in this game, they should advance.
Finishing things out in the field of 16, #2 Perkiomen Valley will play Kennett or Hatboro-Horsham. PV is averaging 4.5 goals per game. More impressively, they give up less than two per game. Goalie Dustin Jagiela will lead the charge and help PV advance to the quarter finals. In the quarterfinals, here’s the call: W.C. Henderson over Haverford, Springfield over whomever they play (Penncrest, Newark and Unionville are all very capable of making it this far), Methacton over Radnor and Perk Valley over Rustin.
That would set up a semi final match-up of Henderson and Springfield. Again, both of these teams relied on defense and goaltending this year. Some may argue that Henderson is seeded too high and that Springfield should have gotten a three or four seed. That makes these teams relatively even on paper. I’ll go with a low scoring upset, Springfield by a goal.
Methacton and Perkiomen Valley are quite familiar with each other, as they've played head-to-head three times in the regular season. PV took the first two games, 3-2 and 4-2 respectively. The most recent game however saw Methacton get a bit of revenge with a 5-2 win. I have to go with the goaltending in such a marquee match-up and I give the edge to PV in that category. 4-2, Vikings.
Perkiomen Valley against Springfield is the final I envision if everything goes to plan (and it won’t). This will be a goaltenders duel. Mistakes will be costly. Whoever makes fewer will win. I’ll go with Perkiomen Valley to capture their first-ever Flyers Cup championship.
For more information on high school hockey in the Philadelphia area, visit www.breakawaymonthly.com.