Area ice hockey programs will be chasing the same teams this season, but the gap is narrowing between the haves and the have-nots.
Mount St. Joseph, Archbishop Spalding and St. Mary's will compete in the Maryland Scholastic Hockey League's Tier I again, while the winner of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference will play in the MSHL Tier II playoffs this year.
The area's strongest league will again be the MIAA A Conference. Mount St. Joseph, which gave up a mere six goals on the way to a 14-0 league record last year, will again be the team to beat. The Gaels may have a little bit tougher time duplicating that record this year, however.
Mount St. Joseph lost 11 players from last year's MSHL runners-up, the largest turnover the team has ever had. Still, the Gaels can draw from a Tier II team that won the MSHL's Chesapeake Cup last year.
Senior forwards Anthony DiNoto and Steve Street will lead the way. Senior Jimmy Doherty will anchor the defense, but Gaels coach Erv Terwilliger is concerned that only two backliners return.
If the Gaels are to be pushed this year, Spalding and maybe St. Mary's will be doing it.
Spalding returns a talented group, but also has added some exciting newcomers. The Cavaliers, who went 13-6-1 last year, should have a speedy offense led by junior forwards Justin Sexton and Ryan Craig.
St. Mary's, despite the loss of seven skaters from a 15-5 team, returns a balanced squad. The defense will be young and unproven.
Archbishop Curley should contend with a defensively oriented team. Senior Lyle Armacost will lead the defense in front of senior goalie Brendan McHale. Rob Hemstetter will provide the production on offense.
Defense will also be the backbone for Calvert Hall. Junior Greg Valiquette (goalie) and seniors Tony Heigel (defense) and Trevor Schipley (forward) will be counted on for leadership if the Cardinals are to improve on their 2-8 league record of last year.
In the MIAA B Conference, champion Severn doesn't appear ready to give up its title just yet. The Admirals lost 92 percent of their offense when forwards Kyle Laughlin and Ryan Lewis graduated last year. The team will look for production from senior forwards Lyon Ellison and Danny Ricciotti, while senior goalie Kip Turner will have to have another solid year if the team is to repeat.
Conference runner-up St. Paul's returns most of its team, but the Crusaders suffered a major loss when scorer Charlie Daniels transferred to a New England prep school. His scoring partner, senior forward David Cornbrooks, however, is back, and his leadership will tell a lot about how St. Paul's does.
Boys' Latin will be strong again, especially on offense, where senior forwards Dan Good, Trey Sheain and Drew Peace all return. Lakers can easily contend with an improved defensive effort.
Gilman's program will be taken over by coach Paul Veillette, and he says the Greyhounds are trying to build for the future.
Glenelg Country will have a team for the first time. Coach Mark Cholnik says he has been surprised by the interest his students have shown for the sport.
Mount St. Joseph's Tier II team will face a rough road in trying to defend its title, and the Gaels will need offense to smooth the way.
Atholton should again be the top contender in Howard County, but Centennial and River Hill are not far behind.
The Raiders won the league title last season and advanced to the second round of the MSHL Tier II playoffs. They return most of the team, including brothers Colin (senior, defense) and Tyler Brumsted (sophomore, forward). Pat Cavanaugh, the high-scoring junior forward, also is back.
Centennial has a new coach, but the Eagles also return most of their lineup.
County runner-up River Hill lost most of its players from last year, but what remains is still high quality. The defense, led by juniors Matt Miller and Jon Eichel, should be its strength.
The surprise team in Howard County could be Howard High. The Lions return a veteran squad, led by captain Jake Lesenfeld (defense).
Long Reach should improve over last year's inaugural season, in which the Lightning went 0-10. Hammond and Wilde Lake will share a provisional team, and numbers have been a problem. Turnout was a problem at Mount Hebron, and this will be a teaching year for new coach Frank Durantaye.
If Glenelg can find a goalie, then this could be a team to watch. Turnout was good, and the Gladiators will only carry two seniors.
Oakland Mills will be inexperienced this year. The Scorpions had an influx of football and baseball players try out for the team, and how quickly they pick up the game will speak volumes about its performance.
In Anne Arundel County, Severna Park will be looking to avenge its upset playoff loss to Southern last year in the Eastern Conference finals. Coach Chuck Fox said the loss has made the Falcons hungry.
About 20 players are returning to a team that Fox says is better than the 26-2-1 Falcons of last season.
Broadneck's players were part of a provisional team with Arundel last year, but the Bruins will field their own team this season. Coach Robert Atkinson says his goal is for the team to finish around .500.
Old Mill will have a provisional team for the first time this year. The team will be quick, and the offense will be its strength. Forwards Champ Frye (junior), Bobby Ferrari (sophomore) and Nick McKain (senior) provide most of the experience.
In Harford County, Fallston and Bel Air will split a provisional team.