Sports 01-04-2018

Price-Espada, Pope John Tigers claim Holiday Hoop Classic title

By Cary Shuman

There was no stopping sophomore guard Angel Price-Espada and the Pope John XXIII High School boys basketball team in the 2017 Holiday Hoop Classic on the Tigers’ home court

Price-Espada lit up the scoreboard with 36 points, 28 coming in the first half, as Pope John ran away from Winthrop, 87-65, in the championship game. Price-Espada was also an offensive force with 25 points in a win over Greater Lawrence in the semifinals.

Michael Thompson, a senior co-captain, had 15 points and a crowd-pleasing dunk. Junior guard Cameron Erickson, an excellent outside shooter, scored 12 points while junior forward Luis Velasquez, of Chelsea, contributed 10 points and six rebounds for the Tigers who improved to 7-1 and loom as one of the favorites in the Division 4 North sectional.

Price-Espada was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after displaying his terrific long-range shooting skills and dazzling dribbling. The 5-foot-7-inch guard is averaging close to 30 points a game.

“It feels good to be MVP, but I was just looking to help our team win,” said Price-Espada, who grew up in Cambridge. “I think our team can go far this season.”

Coach Leo Boucher’s Tigers are the top-ranked team in Division 4 North, and they routed a very good Winthrop team that is ranked No. 2 in the division. The two contenders will meet in the final game of the regular season on Feb. 21 in Winthrop and will likely see each other again in the State Tournament.

Title Townie

Charlestown’s Leo Boucher has  PJ hoop looking like a contender

By Cary Shuman

Pope John XXIII High School boys basketball coach Leo Boucher has taken little time in turning his squad in to a powerhouse and a major contender for a state championship.

Boucher’s Tigers, top ranked in Division 4, showed their strength and firepower in belting Winthrop by an 87-65 score in the championship game of the Tigers’ Holiday Hoop Classic last Thursday night. Pope John improved its record to 6-1.

The explosive Tigers, led by a 36-point performance from their sensational sophomore guard, Angel Price-Espada, scored 27 points in the first quarter and were on pace to break the century mark before Boucher slowed down the game in sportsmanlike fashion.

Having a state-title contending team is familiar territory for the dynamic Boucher, who led St. Clement of Somerville to the crown in 2014. The St. Clement School closed last year and Boucher took his coaching skills to the Pope John program. Four of his St. Clement players, including senior captain Michael Thompson, also matriculated at Pope John.

It’s been a smooth transition as Boucher has guided Pope John to six victories, most notably over Arlington Catholic and Winthrop. The Tigers’ lone loss (54-50) was to O’Bryant High School, a top team in Division 2.

“I think Winthrop is still the team to beat in the division,” said Boucher, a proud Charlestown resident and 1984 graduate of Christopher Columbus High School. “We play Winthrop on their Senior Night so I’m sure they’ll be motivated after this game.”

Boucher preaches team togetherness and the Tigers have jelled quickly, passing the ball extremely well and playing tough end-to-end defense.

“I thought we were a little more focused against Winthrop,” said Boucher. “One of the things we have to get used to is playing the game together and not making it about an individual or individuals. Basketball is a team game.”

Sophomore guard Angel Price-Espada has been thriving in Boucher’s fast-paced attack. The 5-foot-7-inch Price-Espada is one of the state’s leading scorers.

“I think Angel is one of the better players in Division 4,” said Boucher. “The sky’s the limit for him. He’s just focused on his game and he’s incredibly talented.”

Boucher, 55, grew up in Charlestown, and was a basketball standout at Christopher Columbus High School in the North End, graduating in 1981. Boucher was a senior when fellow Townie and future NHL player Jim Vesey, became a freshman at Columbus.

“What a great [state championship] team Jimmy played on at Columbus,” said Boucher. “His son, Jimmy, is playing in the NHL and he’s a very bright, articulate kid and I’m sure they’re very proud of him.”

Boucher followed up his own glory days at Columbus with a star turn for the Saint Anselm College team. Boucher, a 6-foot-3-inch guard/forward, was known for his talent, toughness, and team leadership.

Can Leo Boucher take another team to the Boston Garden and beyond in his first season at Pope John?

“Our goal is to take it one game at a time,” said Boucher. “But I think the kids are focused and they think they can make a run. And I think this team has the ability and the talent to make a run if they stay focused, stay mature, and do what they have to do as teammates – I think we’ll be fine.”

In addition to his coaching success, Boucher is also enjoying the role of a proud hockey father these days. His son, Aidan, played in the Charlestown Youth Hockey program and is currently an eighth-grade defenseman in the Catholic Memorial High School hockey program.

 “He has a long way to go and he’s currently playing for the Junior Bruins hockey team,” said Boucher. “Hopefully if he turns in to a 6-3 defenseman, I think we’ll be pretty happy. I just want him to work hard and have fun.”

Bruins Beat

by Bob Morello

Bruins finding a rhythm

Add another notch to the belt of Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask as he easily stopped 25 of 26 New York Islanders’ shots in Tuesday night’s 5-1 win. Tuukka has been an important part of Boston’s 7-1-2 record for their last 10 games. On Monday, the NHL also took note, naming Rask as the NHL’s first star of the month for the month of December. Rask finished the month tied for the league lead in wins (9) and shutouts (2), and led all NHL netminders with a .955 save percentage and 1.22 goals against average. His impressive streak included points in his last 11 games (10-0-1), his longest such streak of his career. The exclamation point on ‘Finland’s Finest,’ shows Rask’s current stats as 14-8-0-3 in 26 games. With a goals-against-average of 2.09, and a save percentage at .925.

Boston’s fourth line of Tim Schaller, Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari were once again a factor in the Bs win over the Islanders, posting four points on the night, responsible for two goals scored by Schaller and Acciari, and assists from Kuraly and Schaller. Also finding the back of the Islanders’ net were Danton Heinen (10), Patrice Bergeron (12), and Brad Marchand with his team-leading 16th goal. Marchand also earned his 200th career assist on Bergeron’s goal. While several of the younger players have provided strong play over Boston’s streak, not to be overlooked is the play of veteran forward David Backes. Since his return from surgery for diverticulitis, Backes has seven goals to go with seven assists for 14 points in 15 games, and the NHL awarded him the NHL third star of the week ending January 1. During that week Backes posted three goals and three assists for six points in three games.

Tonight (Thursday at 7:00pm) the Bruins return to TD Garden ice for a brief two-game homestand, taking on their Atlantic Division rival Florida Panthers, the Panthers have found a bit of rhythm lately, posting a 6-3-1 record for their last ten game. The Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday (7:00pm), will provide the opposition, working on a last ten games record of 7-2-1 as they continue to fight for a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins find themselves in second place in the Atlantic Division with 50 points (38-22-10-6), maintaining a two-point margin over the Toronto Maple Leafs, plus the Bs hold three games in hand. Boston has moved up nicely in the Eastern Conference standings – holding the fourth spot with 50 points, and trailing the Washington Capitals (53) by a margin of three points, and Boston again with three games in hand over the Caps.

Following their homestand the Bs will travel to Pittsburgh on Sunday, to take on the Penguins on the Pens’ home ice, before enjoying a rare schedule break of five-days off, before hitting the ice again in Montreal on Saturday, January 13th.  Boston’s latest injury report at press time (Wednesday), saw the team send winger Peter Cehlarik to AHL Providence for conditioning and the rehabbing his leg injury, while still on injured reserve. Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid also continues on injured reserve, and has not cracked the roster, despite being given a clean bill of health on 12/27. He is expected back in the lineup possibly tonight (Thursday) versus the Panthers, but obviously is not being rushed back, with the team playing solid, winning hockey.

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