NZ Prep Poll: Week #9

Prep School hockey now  enters the second half of February and that means playoff implication games are everywhere. This week saw Lawrence Academy secure the #1 spot for the first time this season and has seen two new teams from last week in #13 Berkshire and #15 Kent who were both ranked earlier this season. Teams who are making a strong playoff push and climbing the rankings are #6 KUA, #7 St Mark’s, #8 Hotchkiss and #11 Cushing.

1. Lawrence Academy (15-2-0)

Last Week: #4  Lawrence takes over the top spot for the first time this season after an impressive stretch beating Governors, Tabor, #4 Dexter and Belmont Hill. The Spartans are scoring 4.4 goals per game and giving up just 1.8 which is a recipe for success down the stretch. They may not have the strength of schedule of some the teams in the poll but they are 5-2-0 against ranked opponents this season which is a good sign including two wins over Dexter. They have two tough tests this week against St. Paul’s and St. Sebastian’s but both games are home. With 8 games remaining in their season; Lawrence will face only 3 teams with winning records and has over a 90% chance of making the Elite 8. Key will be to finish strong and get home ice seeding.  Next Up:  vs. #12 St. Sebastian’s; vs. St. Paul’s

2. Salisbury School (16-2-1)

Last Week: #1  The Crimson Knights fall just one spot after a 4-2 loss to Berkshire but rebounded well with back to back wins against quality opponents in Gunnery and Trinity Pawling. Salisbury has lost 1 game in their last 18 contests and have impressive wins on the resume against Brunswick, Hotchkiss (x2), Kent, Gunnery, Cushing and Berkshire. With 6 games remaining, the Crimson Knights will face 3 ranked opponents, two of them on the road as well as a rematch game against at Taft team that knocked them off first game of the season. Next Up:  vs. Taft; @ #9 Loomis Chaffee

3. Avon Old Farms (18-2-0)

Last Week: #3  The Winged Beavers enter this week with an impressive 18-2-0 record with just 6 games remaining on the schedule. The good news is they are likely 3 wins away from an Elite 8 berth which the school hasn’t had in awhile. The bad news is they have a difficult road ahead playing a stingy Deerfield team, an underrated Gunnery  squad with the talent to beat anyone, #2 Salisbury on the road and #5 Loomis Chaffee. The team is 13-1-0 in their last 14 games and have momentum on their side but they’ll have plenty of tests before playoffs. Big week with 3 upcoming games against Deerfield, Gunnery and Choate.  Next Up: vs. Gunnery, @ Deeerfield, @ Choate

4. Dexter School (19-3-0)

Last Week: #2 Dexter, who has been preps top team most of the season, has lost 2 of their last 6 games and moves down slightly in the poll this week. The teams is still a 19 win team with 5 games remaining against unranked opponents so Dexter should head into the playoffs with plenty of momentum and wins on their resume. They are 4-2-0 against ranked opponents and have both the depth and the high-end skill to win every game they are in. With some of the tough games upcoming with the teams ahead of them, it wouldn’t surprise if Dexter found their way back to the top of the heap before the playoffs began. A serious contender with the highest percentage chance of making the Elite 8 (over 98%).  Next Up: @ #14 New Hampton; @ Berwick

5. Nobles & Greenough (14-4-2)

Last Week: #6  Nobles is riding a 7-game unbeaten streak into their final 6 games of the season. Nobles has a lot going for them; they have a win over #1 ranked Lawrence Academy and they will not play another ranked team until the playoffs which gives them a solid chance to make the Elite 8. However, they are 2-3-2 against ranked opponents and while they have a great chance to win out; they can’t climb much in the rankings given the teams they have remaining. They are likely to make Elite 8 but home ice doesn’t look promising unless team above them fall.  Next Up: @ Governors, vs. Milton, @ BB&N.

6. Kimball Union (16-5-1)

Last Week: #11  The 3x Champions are making a late season push going 9-1-0 in their last 10 games after a somewhat up and down start to the season going 8-4-1 through their first 13 games. This is a talented, deep roster who is starting to fire on all cylinders beating quality opponents in Stanstead, Exeter, Tilton, NMH and New Hampton in their last 5 contests. They have 7 regular season contests left where they will only face 1 ranked opponent so KUA could continue their winning surge all the way to the Elite 8. What has changed for the Wildcats as of late? They are scoring at a high level; in the past 5 games they have averaged 5.4 goals per game against teams who all have .500+ records. The Wildcats have a brutal upcoming schedule having to play 5 games over 7 days but they are getting hot at the right time.  Next Up: vs. Andover; vs. #14 New Hampton; vs. Holderness

7. St. Mark’s (14-2-1)

Last Week: #9 St. Mark’s climbs up a spots in the poll after their first signature win of the season against a ranked team in St. Sebastian’s by a score of 6-3. A two-loss team who has had a weaker schedule than most teams in this poll but keeps winning the games they need to win. They’ll have another test this week facing three teams at home including ranked opponent Cushing Academy. Next Up: vs. Brooks; vs. #11 Cushing, vs. Middlesex

8. Hotchkiss (13-4-1)

Last Week: #10 Hotchkiss is on a roll riding an 8-game unbeaten streak and giving up just 5 goals in their past 6 games. What makes Hotchkiss work is not just quality defense and goaltending, but they have size and are tough to play against. During this win streak they have beaten playoff bound teams in Exeter, Kent, Deerfield and Berkshire. The road gets tough for them as they have 4-straight road games and have both Kent and Salisbury still on their schedule. A strong close to the season would put them in the Elite 8 but it won’t be an easy task. Next Up: @ Choate; @ Westminster

9. Loomis Chaffee (12-3-3)

Last Week: #5 Loomis drops a few spots from last weeks rankings after a loss to Avon and a tie to Cushing Academy. With that being said those are both ranked opponents and Loomis only has 3 losses on the season. The downside is that they only have 12 wins and will need to finish strong to get into the Elite 8. They have 7 games left including games on the road against #3 Avon and #8 Hotchkiss as well as home matchup against #2 Salisbury. This week Loomis goes on the road against Deerfield who is a tough matchup given their size and balance and will then return home to play #2 Salisbury. If they can win those games they have a real chance to make an Elite 8 push and climb the ladder.   Next Up: @ Deerfield; vs. #2 Salisbury

10. Brunswick (16-4-2)

Last Week: #7 Despite Brunswick winning both games this week and maintaining a strong RPI rankings; they fell a few spots in the poll due to other teams below them having more impressive wins this past week. Brunswick has an impressive 16 wins but they are 0-4 against ranked opponents which won’t look favorable in the JSPR rankings which determine Elite 8 seedings. They have a chance to make a strong push with 5 games remaining including two against Gunnery and one against Berkshire. Elite 8 chances are still alive. Next Up: @ Gunnery; @ #13 Berkshire

11. Cushing (15-6-3)

Last Week: #13  Cushing is surging at just the right time and is the team nobody wants to play against come playoff time. The Penguins are on a 9 game unbeaten streak and scoring 5.88 goals per game during that stretch. They have 7 games remaining in their season and could legitimately make an Elite 8 push if they can make a serious run as they’ll face 3 ranked opponents between now and then including #7 St. Marks, #14 New Hampton and #6 KUA. Cushing struggled earlier in the season against ranked opponents but has a chance to climb the rankings in the final weeks of the season. One of the hottest teams in prep hockey right now. Next Up: @ #7 St. Marks; vs. Canterbury

12. St. Sebastian’s (13-5-1)

Last Week: #8  The Arrows fall a bit this week after going 1-2-1 in their last 4 games. However, one of their losses was against #7 St. Mark’s and they tied #5 Nobles. They have a strong RPI ranking which will help them coming playoff seedings but the road ahead gets tough. They have 7 games remaining and among those teams is Thayer who beat them 5-1; Belmont Hill who beat them 5-3; and #1 Lawrence who they’ll play twice. A strong end of the season would put them in the Elite 8 field putting their tournament destiny in their hands. Next Up: vs. Belmont Hill; @ #1 Lawrence; vs. Hoosac

13. Berkshire (13-7-2)

Last Week: NR  Berkshire has been as high as top 5 in the poll this season and spent several weeks unranked but their recent 3 game winning streak put them back on the board. The Bears have a tough upcoming schedule remaining facing 6 tough teams who can beat anyone any given night. They’ll need a strong finish to have a chance at the Elite 8 or to secure home ice in the Large School but with their balance and depth they can play with anyone. Keep in mind this is a team who has beaten #2 Salisbury and #3 Avon in late January; they are plenty capable.  Next Up: vs. #15 Kent; vs. Brunswick

14. New Hampton (17-7-1)

Last Week: #14  Despite losing their last game against #6 KUA the Huskies hold their spot in the poll after going 4-1-1 in their last 6 games. They are one of the leading teams in the league in goals and have a healthy balance of depth, skill and grit. They have 17 wins which is among the best in the league but not one has come against a ranked opponent which has been their toughest challenge. However, this week they’ll have two chances to correct that as they face #6 KUA and #4 Dexter to get their first signature win of the season.  Next Up: vs. #4 Dexter; @ #6 KUA

15. Kent (11-7-0)

Last Week: NR  Kent has only 11 wins and 7 losses but they have one of the toughest, if not the toughest, strength of schedules of anyone in prep hockey. They picked up critical wins against Westminster and Taft but have 7 games remaining to decide their playoff fate including #2 Salisbury, #13 Berkshire and #8 Hotchkiss. They are not statistically eliminated from the Elite 8 and with a sweep could climb into the hunt; but regardless their strong RPI ranking and strength of schedule should secure home ice at the Large School at the very least.  Next Up: @ #13 Berkshire; @ Trinity Pawling