Mark Quirk's High School Hockey: Manchester Central's chances get a boost
TWO Division I teams' chances of winning a title went in opposite directions last week.
Manchester Central's chances improved with the return of senior captain Mitchel Fortin, who has been out since the holiday break because of a broken arm. He returned to the Little Green lineup on Saturday and scored a goal against Hanover.
Meanwhile, Salem lost top scorer Jake Pappalardo for the rest of the season because of an arm injury. The Blue Devils are 1-4-1 over their last six games.
Central won three games in a row, beating Salem in overtime and then downing Nashua South and Hanover by a combined score of 19-2.
It would seem the Little Green are playing their best hockey of the season at just the right time, and part of that could be due to the fact Fortin is back.
Central coach Brian Stone said Fortin is a natural scorer and leader on the ice, which is "great to have this time of year."
Fortin still must wear a soft cast on his arm, which limits his mobility. Stone said he feels Fortin is probably at about 80 percent. He started him on the fourth line against Hanover and moved him up to the third after the Little Green took a commanding lead.
"He was working like a dog," Stone said. "I was glad to see that."
Stone said Fortin has a great demeanor on the ice, displays a strong work ethic and gives the team one more scoring threat to go along with players such as Cole Anderson, Trevor Malmgren and Austin Sprague, the leading scorer in Division I.
"If he's around the net he can burry those," Stone said of Fortin. "I learned that coaching against him."
Fortin played in only three regular-season games before getting hurt. He had three goals and three assists in those three games, all wins.
IT'S THE LAST WEEK of the regular season, crunch time for a few teams that I believe still have an outside shot at making the postseason.
After checking the schedules and looking at points and ratings, these are my best guesses.
In Division I, both Nashua North and Exeter have a fighting chance of getting into the playoffs. In Division II, Keene can still slip in. And in Division III, the eight-team field has already been determined.
Ten teams make the tournament in both divisions I and II.
Hanover currently holds the No. 10 spot in Div. I with a record of 5-7-2, giving it 24 points. North is in 11th place at 5-10 (20 points) and Exeter is in 12th at 4-11-1 (18 points).
The possibilities for either the Titans or Blue Hawks getting in are slim, but possible nonetheless. All the Marauders have to do is win one of their final two games against Bishop Guertin or Exeter, and both North and the Blue Hawks would be eliminated.
Exeter and the Titans both have two games left and can't lose either of them. North has to play Londonderry and Nashua South, and the Blue Hawks play Hanover and Central.
Kingswood of Wolfeboro is the No. 10 team in Div. II with a record of 8-7 for 32 points. Both Pelham-Windham and Pembroke-Campbell have 34 points.
The Blackbirds sit at No. 11 with 22 points. They need to win all three of their remaining games against Bedford, Timberlane and Lebanon and have the Knights lose all three of their games against Lebanon, Winnacunnet and Dover to sneak in.
The eight teams that have qualified for the Div. III tournament are Berlin (16-0), John Stark-Hopkinton (12-1-1), Souhegan (11-4), Belmont-Gilford (11-5), Moultonborough-Inter Lakes (9-6-1), Hollis-Brookline (8-7), Kennett (8-7) and Portsmouth (6-10).
IT'S GUT-CHECK TIME for defending Div. II champ Bedford, which closes out the regular season with four games this week including a home-and-home series with Merrimack on Thursday and Saturday.
The Bulldogs were third in the standings to start the week at 9-3-2, but have struggled against the top teams in the league. Their losses were to Spaulding, Dover and Goffstown, and they tied Oyster River and Bow.
Bedford played Keene on Monday, then was scheduled to take on Goffstown on Wednesday before the two with the Tomahawks.
"I think it's crucial we go at least .500 this week and get at least one against Merrimack," Bedford coach Marty Myers said.
Only three of Bedford's nine wins have been against teams above .500.
"To this point in the season we haven't done anything special," Myers said. "It would be good to know we can beat one of the top teams in the division."
Mark Quirk covers high school hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.