With the Christmas and New Year’s Holidays this past week; many prep teams got back on the ice and have started their second half of the season. We have put together our Week #4 Prep Poll showing where teams were ranked in the previous poll, who they played this past week and who awaits them in the upcoming schedule.
1. Salisbury (10-2-0) Previous (#1) This Week: Wins over Brunswick and Deerfield
NZ’s Take: Coming out of Flood Marr Championship and leading all prep teams in goals per game at 4.50. Rocky start but they’ve won their last 8 games straight; 5 of which are ranked teams! The clear team to beat in prep hockey. A favorable schedule awaits as they play only 3 more ranked teams before the end of the season (Hotchkiss, Avon, Gunnery). Cushing and Westminster however this week will be a good test as both teams are strong enough and gritty enough to play with Salisbury for three periods.
2. Gunnery (10-2-1) Previous (#3) This Week: Wins over NYA, Canterbury, Winchendon
NZ’s Take: Since their loss to Exeter on 12/2, Gunnery is 9-0-1 with most of those games coming against .500+ teams. This team is versatile; they can play hard and fast, they can play physical and tough to play against and they find ways to score goals. They are coming off a win at the Avon Holiday Tournament with a win over a gutsy St. Paul’s team and both their losses this season come against teams in the Top 15. A real contender. Only Salisbury and Avon remaining on the schedule for upcoming ranked opponents yet to play.
3. Lawrence Academy (6-0-4) Previous (#4) This Week: Wins over Governors, NMH and Culver; Tie to Cushing.
NZ’s Take: Lawrence remains the only unbeaten team in prep. What they have been missing on their resume was a signature win; however, their tie against Cushing and wins over NMH and Culver point to a team that can play with the best of the league. They have 4 ties in 10 games which could show a lack of killer instinct to finish off games, but they are 10 games in without a loss which nobody else can say. They have 17 games remaining but 6 of those are against teams ranked in the top 15 so they’ll have a chance to prove themselves against the best.
4. Kimball Union (11-3-0) Previous (#8) This Week: Wins over Millbrook, Brunswick, Belmont Hill and Rivers
NZ’s Take: KUA stumbled a bit through the Flood Marr but returned from the break on a mission winning its last 5 straight games over quality opponents. The difference has been finding ways to score. In there 1-3-0 mid December they scored just 4 goals in 4 games. In their last 5 games they have scored 23 for over 4 goals per game average. 5 of their next 11 games are against ranked opponents so they have a tough stretch as they look to qualify for the Elite 8 and lock up home ice advantage. 2 of their next 4 games are against ranked opponents in #6 Deerfield and #13 St. Paul’s.
5. Tilton (9-1-0) Previous (#7) This Week: Win over Milton
NZ’s Take: Tilton has only one loss on the season and quality wins over ranked opponents KUA and St. Paul’s. They haven’t had the toughest strengths of schedule up to this point and will have a nice test against Andover coming up that will have playoff implications. Team has given up a league low 14 goals against through 10 games. They have 15 games remaining on the schedule with 4 ranked teams along the way so they’ll need to prove they can win those games.
6. Deerfield (6-3-0) Previous (#5) This Week: Loss to Salisbury
NZ’s Take: After the top 5, there are about 5-6 teams who could fall in this spot. Deerfield gets the edge as a team ranked #2 in RPI in the entire league given its strength of schedule. They may have 3 losses, but 2 of those came against #1 ranked Salisbury and the other to #11 Nobles & Greenough. They have wins over #13 Hotchkiss, #4 KUA and #9 Avon Old Farms. Of there 16 remaining games; only 2 are likely to be against squads who finish under .500 and therefore they have a great opportunity in the second half of the season to prove what they are capable of. Their next four games come against Loomis, Cushing, Trinity Pawling and KUA.
7. Andover (8-2-0) Previous (#10) This Week: DNP
NZ’s Take: Andover did not play since losing to #1 ranked Salisbury in the Flood Marr finals, but they are one of the only teams in the league with just 2 losses and those were to #1 ranked Salisbury. They have wins over Hotchkiss, Thayer and Westminster which are all quality +.500 teams. Their next 6 games will go a long way determining their playoff chances as they face Lakes Region Tilton and Proctor this upcoming week followed by a run of 4 straight ranked opponents in Dexter, Exeter, St. Paul’s and Nobles. These next 6 games could define their season.
8. Avon Old Farms (7-2-1) Previous (#15) This Week: Win over Taft
NZ’s Take: Avon is a two-loss team coming off a 5 game unbeaten streak going 4-0-1 against Berkshire, St. Paul’s, Kent, Tabor and Taft. Their only losses came against #6 Deerfield and to Williston which was their first game. Tyler Boucher is proving to be one of the best young prospects prep hockey has seen in awhile and the winged beavers are rolling into a big week against #13 Hotchkiss.
9. Dexter (7-3-3) Previous (#2) This Week: Wins over St. Marks, Canterbury, Ties to Thayer and Rivers, Losses to Culver and NMH
NZ’s Take: Dexter returned from a Lawrence/Groton championship to play 6 games in 9 days where they went 2-2-2. They beat the teams they should beat, they tied two pesky teams in Thayer and Rivers who can play with anyone and they lost to #15 NMH and Culver. Keep in mind this team is playing without its best player, who is also the best player in prep hockey. When he returns to the lineup Dexter is a different team. They have a lot of skill and a top goalie but they need to be tougher to play against down the stretch. With 15 games remaining on the schedule 4 of them are against teams ranked in the top 15 but several of the other unranked teams like Thayer and New Hampton can upset anyone. They have a good shot to return to the Elite 8.
10. Nobles (7-3-0) Previous (#11) This Week: Wins over Berkshire and Williston
NZ’s Take: Nobles is a team that went into Flood Marr undefeated leading in nearly every statistical category. Then they faced #1 ranked Salisbury and #4 ranked KUA and weren’t able to score a goal in either game. They ended the tournament with a 5-3 loss to Westminster but looked warn down after those two previous games. They returned from break with and posted two wins over Williston and Berkshire to start their second half of the season on a positive note. They were missing top forward Ryan Stevens for Flood Marr so getting him back will go a long way. Their remaining schedule is interesting; they’ll play 5 of their next 8 games in January against ranked opponents and in all likelihood won’t see a .500 team in February so these next 3 weeks will determine much of their fate. #3 Lawrence twice, #12 St. Paul’s, #11 St. Sebastian’s, Rivers and #7 Andover await them.
11. Hotchkiss (6-3-0) Previous (#14) This Week: Win over Millbrook
NZ’s Take: Hotchkiss has as good a resume against top teams as anyone in the league with wins over #1 Salisbury and #2 Gunnery early in the season. However, they went to Flood Marr against a competitive field and lost 3 straight games. They return from break and beat a tough Millbrook team on the road. They’ll have three tough tests this upcoming week against Brunswick, Avon and Loomis; all formidable opponents who will be tough to beat.
12. St. Sebastian’s (7-3-0) Previous (#6) This Week: Wins over Williston and Belmont Hill, Loss to Berkshire
NZ’s Take: St. Sebastian’s went into break with a lot of confidence after winning their Holiday Tournament. However, they returned going 2-1-0 this past week with wins over Belmont Hill and Williston and a loss to a banged-up Berkshire team. They have a talented team with depth up front and on the blue line but they’ve only played one game against a ranked team this season (#15 Exeter) and lost. 5 of their remaining 12 games are against ranked opponents so things will get tougher for them down the stretch.
13. St. Paul’s (8-3-1) Previous (NR) This Week: Wins over Winchendon, Proctor, Kents Hill, Exeter
NZ’s Take: St. Paul’s is 6-1-1 in their last 8 games allowing just 8 goals against or 1.00 GAA per game. That is a recipe that will win you a lot of games. Their sole loss was to #2 Gunnery in the Avon Old Farms Holiday Tournament and they won the Tabor Invitational before coming home to beat Exeter 3-1. The issue with St. Paul’s at this point is their strength of schedule; they have only played 4 ranked teams to this point and have a losing record 1-2-1. However, 3 of their 4 upcoming games are against ranked teams in #4 KUA, #10 Nobles and #7 Andover. How they do in the next few games will have major playoff implications. One of the hottest teams in prep right now.
14. Northfield Mount Hermon (8-4-0) Previous (#15) This Week: Wins over Dexter and Governors; Losses to Cushing and Lawrence
NZ’s Take: NMH went to the EG Watkins after a strong performance at Lawrenceville Holiday Tournament. They were able to knock off Dexter and Governors but lost to home team Cushing and #3 Lawrence. The Hoggers have had a tough schedule and it will not get any easier with KUA, Exeter, Avon, Tilton, Cushing and Andover still left ahead. A team who will compete every night and is difficult to play against.
15. Exeter (7-4-2) Previous (#9) This Week: Tie to Stanstead, Losses to Groton and St. Paul’s
NZ’s Take: Exeter doesn’t play in a Christmas tournament but going into that time they were coming off a 4-0-1 run with wins over St. Sebastian’s Gunnery and Kent and a tie to Dexter. The Lions were looking like one of the premier teams in the league; since then they have gone 1-3-1 in their last 5 with losses to Groton, St. Paul’s and Gunnery. They have 12 games remaining on the schedule and of those 6 are against ranked opponents. They’ll need to turn it around quickly to keep their Elite 8 chances alive.
Next Best: #16 Rivers, #17 Thayer, #18 Westminster, #19 Kent, #20 Proctor
Photo Credit: Dan Hickling/ Hickling Images