The local sports scene has been pretty impressive this winter, don't you think?
From the 13 game winning streak by Phil Rowley's Groton-Dunstable Crusaders hockey team to the reemergence of North Middlesex girls' basketball -- all is well in the local sports world.
This winter will see more local sports teams in the hunt for a district crown than I can remember.
This year, that number has the potential to grow to eight, if Groton-Dunstable is able to defeat Shrewsbury on the last day of the season.
Let's start at the rink with those Groton-Dunstable Crusaders, who were thought to be still strong despite the graduation of star players Adam Kmetz, Allan Haynes and Brad Zadrozny.
The new youthful bunch of Groton-Dunstable skaters has impressed. Early in the season Rowley informed me that his team was a much more finesse-laden bunch than last year's club.
While that is true, senior captains Josh Rabbit, Justin Cole and defenseman
Connor Maguire still pack a pretty heavy punch. The Crusaders clinched the Roy
Conference title outright in Saturday's win st Algonquin.
This year's Crusaders' team is 15-4 and has been consistently in the Top-three of the Telegram and Gazette Media Poll throughout the season.
The team boasts seven Central Mass. North All Stars in Maguire, goalkeeper Jason Robes, Anthony Resca, Cole, Rabbitt, James Tardif and Derek March. Rabbitt, Cole, Maguire, Robes and Resca were also named Roy Conference All Stars.
North Middlesex hockey:
For a team who averaged just under two-goals-per-game a season ago, the Patriot skaters have had no trouble finding the back of the cage this season. This year's team has scored a total of 75 goals in 18 games this season -- that's a + 13 goal differential from a year ago.
North Middlesex crept into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season, well, the Patriots have already punched their ticket well before the end.
This year's North Middlesex team, who currently rests in third-place in the Coughlin Conference behind Lunenburg/Ayer Shirley and Oakmont/Narragansett, will find out who it will face in the first round of districts Saturday afternoon.
Much of the Patriots' success can be attributed to the play of the defense led by defenseman PJ Dupre and anchored at the back by senior goalkeeper Ryan Twomey.
The Patriots have five players on the Coughlin Conference All-Star team in Dupre, Danny McNamara, Ryan McCarthy and Josh Miller.
North Middlesex should have a decent chance at hosting the opening round if the selection committee is kind to head coach Mike McCarthy's gritty, gutsy bunch.
Ayer Shirley boys' basketball:
The Ayer Shirley Panthers clinched its playoff spot last week prior to its game against Narragansett, but that does not mean Justin Carlson's team has any intentions of slowing down.
Ayer Shirley is led offensively by its core of Christopher Patano, Anthony Burwell and Ryan Richard. The trio of six-footers accounts for much of the team's points.
Richard is near the top of the league in points-per-game average with his 17.5 points. The three-headed monster has averaged nearly a double-double in each of its games this season.
Ayer Shirley will await its seeding having already wrapped up its regular season last week.
The Panthers finished the regular season in second place in the Mid-Wach D and with an overall record of 9-7.
Ayer Shirley girls' basketball:
Pete Page's Lady Panthers held their own in the grinder that is the Mid-Wach D League night-in-and-night-out. Ayer Shirley finished its regular season at 11-5 and in third place, but don't let that third-place finish fool you.
Is it a one-and-done for this year's team? Hardly.
The Lady Panthers are built for a long run with the steady play of seniors Melissa Belanger and Gabby Hebert, who is a rebounding and scoring machine. It is no secret that the offense goes through Hebert, but Ayer Shirley has a strong supporting cast of role players to go deep into the tournament.
North Middlesex boys' basketball:
Fact: Erik Dellasanta's North Middlesex Patriots team does not have a winning record.
But, that does not mean it is not deserving of a place in the postseason.
The Patriots have qualified for the tournament due to it being moved to the Div. 2 Western Mass. bracket.
The fact of the matter is, it could not have worked out better for the Patriots who have had to scrap with the likes of Fitchburg, Wachusett and Leominster each night in the daunting Mid-Wach A League.
There are no off-nights for the Patriots, and it should have success in the WMass. bracket despite its sub .500, 9-10 record.
When the likes of Tyler Thomas, Drew Patno and Bobby Larsen Jr. heat up, Dellasanta's lunchpail wielding Patriots are tough to beat.
North Middlesex girls' basketball:
The team who has surpassed preseason expectations has been long-time head coach Pat Murphy's Lady Patriots.
The girls started the season undefeated at 6-0 before falling to Algonquin at home.
North Middlesex is led by its senior forward Mackensey Farina, a league All-Star, who averages 17.2 points-per-game.
Undoubtedly, one of the biggest stories for Murphy's Lady Patriots has been the maturation process of six-foot-two freshman center Erin Antosh.
Antosh has become a valuable weapon with her length down low both defensively and offensively.
Then factor in the shooting prowess of senior Elena Beauregard and sophomore Olivia Cappuci, the Lady Patriots are tough to beat.
By far, the North Middlesex defense feeds of the energy and athletic ability of its senior guard, Julia Murray.
This Lady Patriots team has the best chance to turn some heads this off-season.
So, fans that by in large is my thoughts on the playoff teams who will find out who they will play this Saturday.
On the track, Chris Skelly of North Middlesex took third-place at last weekend's
All-State meet in the two-mile event.
Follow Ed on Twitter/@EdNiser for updates on all of the playoff seedings as they are announced this weekend.