TEWKSBURY — Not long ago, there was concern around the Central Catholic hockey team, following tough losses to Malden Catholic and Austin Prep, the Nos. 1 and 4-ranked team in the state.
But with the Super 8 selection and state tournament seedings now less than a week away, the Raiders continue to send a clear message to the local hockey world.
They are ready.
Led by five-point night for junior Andrew Robbins, Central Catholic delivered an absolute clinic on the way to besting archrival Andover 9-1 yesterday afternoon, less than 24 hours after upsetting perennial power Catholic Memorial, ranked No. 3 in the state by ESPNBoston.com, Monday night.
“This was a fun win,” said senior forward Kevin Regan. “I feel like this team is picking up just at the right time. Sure, we went through a slump. That happens. Right now we are playing defense, scoring, and we are playing tough. It is great to get a big win.”
With just four days until the state tournament seedings are announced, Central stands at 14-3-3 following yesterday’s victory, and with two games remaining this week, the Raiders are focused on one goal — a return to the elite Super 8 tournament.
“We want to be back in the Super 8,” said senior defenseman Conrad Jepson. “That is our goal every year, and playing in that tournament the last three years has been amazing. We want to return to the tournament, and we feel like we can do something and maybe even win.”
A berth in the Super 8 would be the fourth straight for Central Catholic, and the fifth in six years. Prior to Central’s 2007 appearance, no local team had qualified in the first 16 years of the tournament.
Heading into the week, the Raiders were seeded No. 5 in the unofficial state “Super 8” rankings, one of the last two spots that would avoid the play-in round, which matches seeds 7-10 in sudden-death games to determine the final two teams. The two victories in the last two days should bolster the case for Central, which has played the play-in the last four seasons, going 3-1.
But there is work to be done. Central still must face Hingham, tentatively scheduled for tomorrow, and 10-5-4 Acton-Boxboro on Friday to decide the Merrimack Valley Conference/Dual County League Division 1 title.
“It’s a lot of hockey in a little bit of time,” said Central coach Mike Jankowski. “Fortunately, the guys are conditioned properly, and it will prepare us for the tournament. We hope to make the Super 8, but we have to finish the job first.”
The Raiders certainly delivered in a big way yesterday, against an Andover High opponent that had shocked the Raiders with upset victories each of the last three seasons.
“We knew we had to come out and play them strong because they always play us tough,” said Regan. “We played them tough at home (6-0 win), but they have upset us before so we had to come out strong, and we took it home.”
Central Catholic took control early, with Billy Stahley scoring his first of two goals just 1:38 into play and Lloyd Hayes and Robbins adding tallies later in the period to make it 3-0 after one.
“Andover is our rival, so it is always big to come out with a win against them,” said Robbins.
“And to beat them twice in a year is even better.”
Robbins opened the second period with a goal, then recorded his second assist of the day on a score by Christian Thompson. He ended with the two scores and three assists.
“My linemates were making great passes to me and I was able to bury a couple,” he said. “Then I was dishing out a few and they got goals. Everyone was contributing.”
Stahley closed out the second with his second score, and Corey Webber, Richie Greenberg and Zach Cote iced the win with third-period scores.
“Robbins played so well and Stahley put in two,” said Regan.
“It is great that a lot of players are getting involved. We aren’t just relying on one player to score goals.”
Raider goalie Colin Soucy was also on his game, delivering two shutout periods in net before giving way to Ben Zargaj, who finished the contest.
Central now hopes to close out strong and show the Super 8 selection committee they deserve a spot.
“This is my third year on the team and we have made it every day so far,” said Regan. “It would be nice to make it without having to play the play-in game, but either way it will be fantastic.”
Central Catholic 9, Andover 1
Central Catholic (14-3-3): 3 3 3 — 9
Andover (5-12-2): 0 0 1 — 1
Goals: CC — Eric Robbins 2, Billy Stahley 2, Lloyd Hayes, Christian Thompson, Cory Webber, Zach Cote, Richie Greenberg; A — Sean Enright
Assists: CC — Robbins 3, Greenberg 2, Hayes 2, Webber 2, Alex Lester, Stahley; A — Jack Wilkie, Mark Campbell
Saves: CC — Colin Soucy 14, Ben Zargaj 10; A — Nick Scarpa 25, Kristopher Augustine 12