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St. John, West Islip turning it around

St. John the Baptist and West Islip are in the playoffs.

Both teams sat at the bottom of the Suffolk County High School Hockey League standings last season, earning their only victories by splitting two games against each other. But with St. Anthony's losing Sunday, SJB clinched the league's eighth and final playoff spot. SJB continues to chase West Islip for the seventh seed with just a handful of games remaining in the regular season.

"We obviously had to bounce back from last year and [still hope to] make the best of what we can this year," SJB senior captain Rob Palomba said.

"It's been great, honestly," West Islip senior Paul Iannacchino said. "I really get a sense that the whole team is in this."

SJB (8-8-1-0, 17 points) hadn't made the playoffs since the 2006-07 season, and had only competed at the varsity level in two of the four seasons since. In the other two years it did compete, the Cougars posted an abysmal 1-37-1 record, making this season's success all the more satisfying.

"It feels great. It feels like we just got a huge weight lifted off our chest," Palomba said. "It's a good feeling knowing that we've been able to turn the program around a little bit."

West Islip (8-7-2-1, 19 points) made the playoffs two seasons ago, but is also out to prove it was better than its last-place finish last season.

"We want to go out with a bang as seniors," Iannacchino said. "We're working harder in practice and in games and I really think we can take this all the way. We can compete with any team."

Playoffs begin Feb. 8.

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