Mark Quirk's High School Hockey: Showdown Saturday on tap
TWO SATURDAY GAMES could very well be previews of championships in two of the state's three divisions of boys' high school hockey.
The first one, at 6 p.m., pits Manchester Memorial against Salem at the Icenter in Salem. The second one, at 8 p.m., features Spaulding of Rochester against Merrimack at the Rochester Arena.
It's only about midway through the season, but so far these are four of the top teams in the state, and it's all but a guarantee that at least one of them will be playing for a title on March 9 at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.
The Crusaders sit atop the Division I standings at 7-1 and are riding a four-game win streak since suffering their only loss of the season, in overtime, to Londonderry.
The Blue Devils are the hottest team in Division I right now. They are on a nine-game unbeaten streak and have put together a record of 8-1-1. They haven't lost since dropping their season opener to Bishop Guertin of Nashua back on Dec. 12.
Memorial has been plagued by injuries recently, but fortunately has the entire week to get healthy for the big game. It lost senior captain/defenseman Colin Williamson to a dislocated shoulder in a game on Jan. 10 against Manchester Central, and two days later leading scorer Brendan Sullivan went down with a partially separated shoulder. Andrew Putney also has missed time, with a concussion.
As of Monday, all three were still sidelined. Coach Mark Putney said he'd know better at the end of the week whether they'd be able to play.
For the Crusaders, this game ranks right up there with their earlier showdowns against Central and Trinity of Manchester.
"They're playing pretty wel,l and they've got a good goaltender," Putney said of the Blue Devils. "I think it will be a good matchup."
The goalie to whom Putney referred is Nick Phair, who leads Division I with a 1.22 goals-against average in 368 minutes of action. Salem should be at 100 percent for the game. The Blue Devils already have knocked off two other title contenders, Pinkerton Academy of Derry and Trinity.
"Every time we've had a test so far, the team has really stepped up," Salem coach Mark McGinn said.
At 9-0, Merrimack is one of only two teams in the state with no ties or losses. It has yet to play the other top three teams in Division II -- Dover, Bedford and Spaulding -- it has taken care of business in convincing fashion. The Tomahawks have outscored their opponents 52-6, and they haven't given up more than one goal in a game.
This also will be the first game against a top-four team for Spaulding. The Red Raiders have outscored their competition 44-15, and their tie was a 1-1 outcome against Oyster River of Durham.
BERLIN has set itself apart from the rest of the pack with an impressive 8-2 win Saturday over the previously unbeaten cooperative team combining John Stark of Weare and Hopkinton. The Mountaineers already have faced the iron of the league and beaten it, with a 4-3 win over Souhegan of Amherst (8-2), a 4-0 blanking of defending champ Kennett of North Conway (6-3) and the win over John Stark/Hopkinton (8-1-1).
They are the only other team in the state with no ties or losses, at 9-0.
LAST SATURDAY, Connor Todd of Kennett scored his 100th career point when he got an assist on the first goal of a 13-2 win for the Eagles over Manchester West. Brad Canavari scored the goal at 4:54 of the first period. Todd is the sixth player in the program's 13-year history to reach the plateau.
CENTRAL is finally starting to get healthy once again. The Little Green got a big boost from forward Andrew Kehas, who had been out with a shoulder injury since before the holiday break. Kehas scored the game-winning goal for Central in a 3-2 win over Nashua North on Saturday.
Mark Quirk covers high school hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.