One More for the Road; Serino’s Senior Class takes 4th Straight Super 8
Jon Gouin- Guest Correspondent
BOSTON-The Malden Catholic High Lancers have done it again. Another year, another Super 8, and another Division 1-A State Championship; that makes four in a row for those of you keeping count at home. It’s a feat which hasn’t been accomplished since a 1998-2001 run by Catholic Memorial.
So, it only makes sense to take look back at the 2013-14 campaign, before we look ahead, as it was certainly noteworthy for the defending and reigning champion Lancers. Flashback to December 28, as the top-ranked Lancers hosted then #2 ranked Austin Preparatory in the Christie Serino Christmas Classic championship game at Valley Forum.
The end result would be a 4-1 Malden Catholic victory in the tournament named for former head coach Chris Serino, who passed away in October of 2012, after a year-long battle with throat cancer. That year, the Lancers won their second straight Super 8 title, despite the loss of their leader and coach, and Serino’s impact would assuredly continue.
“He turned around Malden Catholic, he was ‘MC,’” remembered now-senior Nick Rolli. “Before he got there the team struggled a lot and within a year, Coach Serino coached them to the state Tournament. Then gradually, as time went on, he accomplished the goal to get to the Super 8. I think he is Malden Catholic.”
Just three days after the Serino Classic victory over AP, the Lancers took on a new and exciting challenge against an old foe. You might remember this writer taking part in Frozen Fenway, as Malden Catholic and St. John’s Prep squared off on the infield of the famed Fenway Park. It would be a 3-1 victory for the Lancers, and just another step on the journey that was the 2013-14 season.
After a 5-0 start, winning those games by a combined 28-8 count, the Lancers hit a bump in the road, dropping three-of-six contests. After falling to BC High, Delbarton (NJ), and Catholic Memorial, the ship would apparently be righted, as the boys reeled off eight straight victories to climb to 16-3. A final regular season setback to Cathedral (Springfield) would wrap up a 16-4 campaign, earning the Lancers the number-two seed in this year’s Super 8 state championship tournament.
After a 2-0 sweep of Catholic Memorial all but disintegrated any memory of the early season defeat, Malden would once again square off with Cathedral (Springfield) in the semifinal round. In almost storybook fashion, the Lancers would again avenge a loss, topping Cathedral 3-1 and earning their fourth consecutive trip to TD Garden in Boston, for a shot at yet another championship.
Junior center Ara Nazarian explained the Lancers mindset entering the tournament as three-time defending champions:
“We came into this Super 8 with the same mindset as every other year- we want to win. That’s what you’ve got to do, you’ve got to come in and say, ‘winning the quarterfinals is good and winning the semifinals is good,’ but you don’t stop until you win the championship. I think that’s what our mindset was, and I think that’s what you need to have.”
Squaring off against the Lancers in the final would not be number-one seeded BC High, who would have given Malden a chance to avenge another of its losses. Instead, it would be the 4th-seeded Austin Prep Cougars, who at 16-4-4 had upset BC High, 3-2, in a shootout in the semifinals.
“We knew they were going to come out physical,” Tyler Sifferlen explained, as one of four active seniors on the roster. “We just went out there and played our game,” he said of how the Lancers weathered the early physicality of the Cougars- who came out aggressive and throwing their bodies around.
It would be a scoreless game into the final minute of the first period when at 14:09 it would be Sifferlen to break the ice with his sixth goal of the tournament. Chris Hopkins and Nazarian notched assists on the play as the big senior came rumbling through the zone, from Cougars’ goaltender Elijah Harris’ left side. A back-and-forth stick-handle which reminded me of NHL 2001 on the PS2, and the Lancers were on the board, 1-0, as an entertaining first period came to a close.
“I’m just shooting it on net and working hard, just a regular game, went out there, worked hard and shot the puck on net, you never know what’s going to happen,” said Sifferlen of the goal.
The second period would start with a bang, as leading scorer Ara Nazarian made it a 2-0 lead just thirty-five seconds in. Nick Rolli and Jake Witkowski would get the assists on a pretty tic-tac-toe play that found Nazarian just outside the dot for a wrister that beat Harris and doubled the Lancers lead.
That goal would start a whirlwind segment of the game that saw MC pot three goals in 2:50 of game time. Rolli potted the second of the three at the 2:35 mark; just two minutes after Nazarian made it 2-0. MC now led 3-0 after the Rolli tally from John McLean III and again, Witkowski put the pressure on the Cougars.
“We had a game plan, we had Johnny McLean stand in front of the net- one of our bigger guys- and get a screen on Harris,” remembered Rolli of the play. “He’s a very good goalie, so credit Johnny ‘cause I don’t think Harris saw that shot.”
As if things weren’t going poorly enough for AP, the Lancers never let up, and the hard work would net a third goal just 0:50 later. Sophomore forward Matt Filipe got the marker as he broke in with senior linemate Brian Cameron 2-on-1, ultimately beating Harris for a 4-0 lead nearing the midpoint of the championship game, with 11:35 to play in the second.
“We’ve got four solid lines, forwards and ‘D,’” said Nazarian, “I think they were rolling three lines at first, then just two, so I think they just got tired,” the junior said of how Malden got things going offensively, and perhaps why the Cougars had gotten away from the physicality employed during a successful first period push.
Austin Prep would get on the board at the 3:39 mark of the period; just fourteen seconds after Filipe made it 4-0. Taking a pass from Anthony Cieri, Cam Russo put the puck past Alex Reissis (20SV, 3GA, W) on a rebound stuff, to make it 4-1 Lancers.
Just when it appeared the Cougars might be clawing their way back into the game, Sifferlen would strike again. Taking a third Witkowski assist and a second off the stick of Nazarian, Sifferlin streaked all the way to the net and beat Harris again, tallying his seventh goal in just four Super 8 contests- a tournament high.
That would conclude the scoring in the second period as MC took a 5-1 lead into the final fifteen minutes. “I was nervous about that,” recalled head coach John McLean II of the large lead. “I just knew the way they were talking in between periods and how they started the [third] period; that they weren’t mentally ready to play defense or play our hockey, we got away from our game.”
That comfort would allow the Cougars to creep back into the game as AP returned to its aggressive play that worked so well in the opening fourteen minutes of the championship. “Austin [Prep] didn’t quit, they could’ve; they could’ve packed it in but they kept coming and coming,” Coach McLean noted.
4:39 into the final period of the season, Robert “Bobo” Carpenter- who’s committed to Boston University- made it a three-goal game with a power-play goal taking the pass from Andrew Cross. 4:59 later, at the 9:38 mark of the third period Carpenter struck once again, taking passes from Mike Eagan and Jake McKenelly to make it a 5-3 game.
“They had us on our heels, and truthfully, we were lucky to get out of that period,” Coach McLean said of the fevered Cougars rally.
At the end of the day, though, the lead was too great to overcome for Austin Prep and time ticked away on their hopes for unseating the now four-time defending champions. The clock would run out on the 5-3 victory and the Lancer celebration was on.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Sifferlen of winning four straight Super 8’s. “I’m just glad I could be a leader of this team this year. We worked hard all four years and we deserve it, you know? Everybody on this team worked hard, the coaches- great coaches- and I’m just glad I could be a part of this team,” said the team co-captain who will soon head to z UMASS- Lowell after a year in juniors.
It means the world, ever since I was a young kid, my father would take me to the Super 8 every “year,” recalled Rolli. “Just to be out there after watching as a kid is awesome.”
“It’s a win. We just try to win every game and try to get two points,” said Coach McLean of the win. “Like I told the kids in the locker room, ‘what did we accomplish? We got two points.’ It’s awesome, don’t get me wrong, so we’ll enjoy it tonight take some time off and see what we have for next year.”
“I thought it was a great season,” continued Coach McLean. “I went in and the first thing I told them is ‘You know, what am I going to say?’ and they’re going to say, ‘well, we didn’t play very well and we didn’t play team defense.’ You hate to say that, but you try to teach- and some of these kids are moving on- that they’re responsible for both ends of the ice.”
It’s no wonder that Lancers have been so good, as with coaching that never stops, it’s hard to not constantly be getting better as a player and as a team.
“It’s a great group of kids, they’re a team with a lot of people against them, so I’m pretty happy and proud of them,” concluded Coach on his squad.
This season, the Lancers were led by Nazarian, who totalled 22 goals and 35 assists for 57 points. Sifferlen had the second highest point total with 51, 25 goals and 26 assists. Line mate Jake Witkowski rounded out the top three with 34 points, 9 goals and 25 assists. Backstop Alex Reissis compiled a sparkling 2.04 GAA with a .902 SV% in close to fifteen total games of ice time.
“It means a bunch to me, I don’t know if this is my last year with an MC jersey on,” said Nazarian of the wins. “It was a huge win for us, especially our seniors. Four rings in four years.”
The Lancers wrap up championship number four with a 20-4 mark and look forward to another year as top-dog in the Catholic Conference and all of Division 1-A.
The 2014 Malden Catholic Lancers, 4-time defending Division 1-A State Champions.