Our Week #8 NZ Prep Poll saw two new teams join the poll and quite a bit of shuffling after the top 4. Salisbury, Lawrence, KUA and Dexter continue to prove they are a crest above the rest, but February is setting up to be a highly contested Elite 8 as there are realistically 10 teams who could squeeze into the bottom 4 spots. We have compiled a list of the Top 15 as we do each week but given the upcoming playoffs we have written up 6 additional teams who have a chance to make a late season playoff push.
NZ Prep Top 15
1. Salisbury (18-3-0) Previous (#1) This Week: Win over Trinity Pawling
NZ’s Take: The Knights continue their dominance over NE Prep as their last loss came before the Christmas tournaments to NEPSHIA competition. They are averaging over 5 goals per game on the season and in the past 10 games over 6. They’ll be favored in every game they play going forward.
2. Lawrence (12-0-6) Previous (#2) This Week: Wins over Belmont Hill and Hebron
NZ’s Take: Lawrence rolls into February as the only undefeated team left in prep hockey. They picked up two wins over the week against Belmont Hill and Hebron but they are entering their toughest week of the season. They’ll play Thayer, the best .500 team in prep, followed up by ranked teams St. Paul’s and St. Sebastian’s. Three big contests in 4 days! If they can run the table this week and keep the unbeaten streak alive then they’ll have proven to the rest of the league that they are a legit Elite 8 contender.
3. Kimball Union (18-4-0) Previous (#3) This Week: Wins over NMH, Holderness, New Hampton
NZ’s Take: Kimball Union is playing its best hockey as they have won 15 of their last 16 games beating ranked opponents NMH, Exeter, Tilton and St. Paul’s in that stretch. This is not as an explosive team as years past but in their last 16 games they are averaging just 1.25 goals against; a formula for winning playoff hockey. They have a tough upcoming week with Lakes Region re-matches against New Hampton and Holderness as well as ranked Andover and they finish the season with Proctor and back to backs against Cushing. They aren’t the best team this year, but may be the best bet for the Elite 8 title given their style of play, discipline and balance.
4. Dexter (15-3-4) Previous (#4) This Week: Wins over Pomfret, Exeter and Andover
NZ’s Take: Dexter is coming off their most impressive week of the season knocking off a good Pomfret team and then followed up by wins over two ranked teams in Andover and Exeter. What was most impressive is they were down 3-1 against Exeter and exploded to score 3 unanswered goals in the third period to win the game. Farinancci being back changes the dynamic of this team and they have two superstar talents who could be the difference against the top teams in the league. Wouldn’t count these guys out against anyone. They don’t face another ranked team the rest of the season so they’ll have time to get healthy and add wins to the resume to secure home ice in the playoffs.
5. St. Sebastian’s (15-4-0) Previous (#7) This Week: Wins over Proctor, Milton and St. Paul’s
NZ’s Take: St. Sebastian’s took care of business this week getting wins over both Proctor and St. Paul’s to boost their strength of schedule. They are 5-0-0 in their last 5 games and will face Belmont Hill and #2 Lawrence Academy this week. A win against LA could do a lot to solidify St. Sebastian’s in the Elite 8, but they’ll face them again as well as Andover in the final week of the season. Have gone from #13 to #7 to #5 in the past two weeks! Team on the rise.
6. Northfield Mount Hermon (15-5-1) Previous (#5) This Week: Loss to KUA, Win over Vermont
NZ’s Take: NMH split this week against Lakes Region teams, but they gave #3 KUA a great run in a 2-1 loss and proved they are not far off. Their wins over Tilton, Dexter and Westminster are looking better and better every week not to mention a win over Avon and tie to Cushing. They have proven they play their best hockey against the best teams. They have Exeter and Andover left on their schedule which are the only 2 ranked teams they’ll face until playoffs. Those games will have significant Elite 8 ramifications.
7. Tilton (17-4-0) Previous (#12) This Week: Wins over Berwick and Exeter
NZ’s Take: After consecutive losses to KUA and NMH, Tilton was starting to look like a team that’s record was better than their actual performance. However, since then they have rebounded with two convincing wins on the road against Berwick and #12 Exeter outscoring them 11-1. They don’t face another ranked opponent the rest of the regular season; depending on their performance at the Lakes Region playoffs Tilton could squeeze their way into the Elite 8 with their wins over Proctor, St. Paul’s, Exeter and KUA.
8. Gunnery (16-4-1) Previous (#6) This Week: Win over Millbrook
NZ’s Take: Gunnery is a team that has been slipping slightly the past two weeks losing 2 of their last 4 to Millbrook and then being dominated by Salisbury. They picked up a win this past week and will have their hands full this upcoming week against Avon, Lawrenceville and Brunswick. Gunnery doesn’t have the signature wins of many of the teams above them despite their depth and tough to play against style, so they’ll need to win most all their games remaining to make it into the Elite 8.
9. Deerfield (10-6-1) Previous (#13) This Week: Win over Andover
NZ’s Take: Deerfield is a tough team to handicap as they are winning some big games like knocking off KUA twice, Andover, Avon, Hotchkiss, Groton and NMH. They have arguably the toughest schedule in prep and have quite a slate remaining to close out their season. If they can win 6 out of their remaining 7 games they’ll likely make the Elite 8; 5 of 7 would make them a bubble team, anything less is likely out. This week they face Loomis and Avon on the road.
10. Groton (14-5-2) Previous (NR) This Week: Wins over Rivers and St. Mark’s
NZ’s Take: Groton is one of prep’s hottest teams riding an 11-game win streak through January. They have had the record to put them into the rankings but strength of schedule was questionable; however, this week they knocked off both Rivers and St. Mark’s which went a long way in proving their value. They also have wins over St. Paul’s and Exeter and a tie to Lawrence. They have a fairly weak schedule remaining so they are likely out of the Elite 8 but should be a real contender for the Small School tournament.
11. Westminster (10-5-2) Previous (#8) This Week: Loss to Williston, Win over Avon
NZ’s Take: Westminster is 4-1-0 in their last 5 games and 9-2-1 in their last 12 games. A disappointing loss to Williston this week which took them back a bit in the rankings but Williston has a way of beating top teams down the stretch. Despite their 7-2-1 record in the past 10 games, they have only outscored their opponents 26-25 so it’s tight. Which shows they can win close games which will be important for the playoffs. Hotchkiss, Gunnery and Deerfield remaining on the schedule. If they can run the table they have a shot at the Elite 8.
12. Exeter (14-7-2) Previous (#10) This Week: Win over Holderness, Losses to Dexter and Tilton
NZ’s Take: This was a tough week for Exeter who had chances to go 3-0-0 and make a big push for Elite 8 placement; but they blew leads against both Dexter and Tilton and finished 1-2-0 and really hurt their chance at an Elite 8 berth. However, remaining on their schedule are key games including Proctor, NMH, Rivers, Deerfield and Andover. Of all the remaining bubble Elite 8 teams, nobody has a better opportunity to boost their resume than Exeter. This upcoming week they play Proctor and Albany Academy.
13. Andover (13-7-1) Previous (#9) This Week: Win over Belmont Hill, Losses to Dexter and Deerfield
NZ’s Take: Andover dropped 2 games this week to Dexter and Deerfield which cut them down in the standings a bit. They have a really tough schedule and their wins against Westminster and Proctor are looking better and better but Andover will need a series of wins in their remaining key games to squeeze into the Elite 8. Like Exeter, they have a lot of opportunity to get themselves in position with KUA, Cushing, Exeter and St. Sebastian’s still on the schedule. Wouldn’t count them out just yet.
14. Hotchkiss (11-6-1) Previous (NR) This Week: Wins over Trinity Pawling and Choate.
NZ’s Take: After a 2-6-1 stretch in the middle of the season, Hotchkiss has quietly rebounded and gotten back into their earlier season form where they were once ranked the top team in the league after defeating Salisbury and Gunnery. They have won 5 of the past 6 and 4 in a row after taking down Choate and Trinity Pawling this week. They have a big week at home playing Westminster and Taft which would go a long way in helping their case for playoff positioning. Of the bottom 5 teams in the Prep Poll, nobody has better quality wins than Hotchkiss with victories over Salisbury, Gunnery and Deerfield.
15. Nobles & Greenough (11-8-2) Previous (NR) This Week: Win over Tabor, Loss to Thayer
NZ’s Take: This could be a bit aggressive for a team with 8 losses coming off a 2-3-1 record in their past 6 games, but they have one of the toughest strengths of schedule and some really quality wins throughout the season including Dexter, Deerfield, St. Paul’s and a tie to Lawrence. They will be favored in all their remaining games so if some teams slip down the stretch and Nobles can beat the teams they should than there is an outside chance they get on the bubble for the Elite 8 with their strong RPI ranking.
On the Bubble
Rivers (13-7-2) This Week: Loss to Groton, Win over Belmont Hill
NZ’s Take: A 13-win team and only 7 losses makes them right on the cusp of making the Top 15. They are 2-3-0 in their last 5 but they have quality wins over Proctor, Groton and St. Sebastian’s. A manageable remaining schedule; should be one of the favorites in the Small School Playoffs but likely not enough resume to make the Elite 8.
Avon Old Farms (11-6-1) This Week: Loss to Westminster
NZ’s Take: Avon is 2-4-0 in their previous 6 games which has almost completely taken them out of the Elite 8 discussion. However, this team has a lot of talent and can really skate. They have three Elite 8 contenders left on the schedule in Salisbury, Gunnery and Deerfield so wins against those teams could do a lot to solidify home ice in Large School playoffs and running the table could give them an outside chance at the Elite 8.
Cushing (12-7-3) This Week: Wins over Hoosac and Vermont Academy
NZ’s Take: Cushing has struggled all season with consistency as they beat top teams like NMH, Deerfield, tie Lawrence and then lose to Thayer and Brewster. They have a tough remaining schedule playing KUA twice, St. Paul’s, St. Marks, New Hampton and Andover. If they can run the table they could secure an Elite 8 berth but more likely they’ll be one of the favorites in the Large School playoffs.
St. Paul’s (12-5-1) This Week: Wins over Berwick and Belmont Hill
NZ’s Take: St. Paul’s is 9-2-1 in their previous 12 games and in that time they’ve beaten 3 ranked teams. They are finding different ways to win games, they have excellent goaltending and play a disciplined defensive game but they are scoring almost 4 goals a game over the past 12 games. They have a tough road ahead having Lawrence, St. Sebastian’s, Thayer and Cushing remaining on the schedule.
Proctor (14-6-1) This Week: Win over Brewster, Loss to St. Sebastian’s
NZ’s Take: Proctor was riding a high of 7-1-1 in their previous 9 games before getting blown out by St. Sebastian’s. The Hornets have had a tough strength of schedule playing the likes of KUA, Tilton (2x), St. Sebastian’s, St. Pauls (2x), Dexter, Rivers and Andover. However, their record against those teams is 1-6-1. They have KUA and Exeter for ranked teams remaining on the schedule, but regardless they’ll be a tough team to knock off in the playoffs with their goaltending and scoring attack.
Kent (9-7-2) This Week: Win over Taft
NZ’s Take: Kent is the only single digit win team in the poll, but this team has had to overcome as difficult a schedule as there is in prep. They have played 18 games and half of those have been against ranked competition! So despite only 9 wins on the season they have beaten Hotchkiss, tied Gunnery and have one goal losses to Westminster and Salisbury. All 7 of their losses were against ranked teams. Their schedule lightens a bit here in the next few weeks and the remaining ranked teams Deerfield and Hotchkiss are beatable. A dark horse in the Large School playoffs.