Today we will see four games, eight teams of the top small school programs in New England prep as they faceoff against one another. We’ll breakdown the matchup, the advantages, key players and even provide predictions.
#8 Portsmouth Abbey @ #1 St. Mark’s
History: St. Mark’s defeated Portsmouth Abbey 6-1 on 12/11
Record against playoff teams: St. Mark’s 4-5-0 Portsmouth Abbey: 1-4-0
Matchup: St. Marks’s beat Portsmouth Abbey handedly their last outing but that was over two months ago and these teams are different at this stage of the season. Both teams are built similar, St. Mark’s has a few more weapons but they both rely heavily offensively on their top six, have strong goaltending and can score goals 5v5. In fact St. Mark’s is one of the highest scoring offenses in prep hockey averaging just shy of 5 goals per game. Portsmouth Abbey is a little older but both teams get contributions from upper and underclassmen. St. Mark’s has more team speed which will be the test here if Portsmouth can slow them down enough to keep it tight and try to pull off an upset late in the game.
St. Mark’s Advantage: Top line, special teams, team speed and overall depth
Portsmouth Abbey: goaltending
Key Players: Portsmouth Abbey is led by seniors Jacob Ierfino who is one of the leading scorers in prep hockey with nearly a goal per game average and Jake Furlong as well as a pair of juniors in Josh Bonrouhi and Michael Patko. Senior defenseman Michael Stephson anchors their blue line, plays in all situations type and runs the power play. In net they’ve gotten excellent play down the stretch from Quebec native Rorke Appleby who has kicked out 122 of his last 127 shots (.961 SV%) over their last 4 games. St. Mark’s is led by Defensive Player of the Year Michael Fisher who leads all prep defenseman in scoring and points. Up front they have a strong top six led by two underclassmen in Andrew Gibbons and freshman phenom Richard Gallant as well as upperclassmen in Dom Murphy and Jim Lvyer. Adam Costley and Charles Watson have both split time between the pipes.
Prediction: St. Mark’s has some considerable advantages in this game; they are a faster team, they are deeper and they have some high end players like Fisher and Gallant who can break the game open. With that being said Portsmouth Abbey is getting superb run out of their goalie down the stretch and almost knocked off Worcester Academy in the Holt Playoffs giving up just two goals on 42 shots. Both teams are well coached and disciplined and have a mix of experience and inexperience. At the end of the day St. Mark’s just has too much firepower for Portsmouth Abbey and they’d have to play a perfect game and get stellar play in net to pull off an upset here.
#7 St. George’s @ #2 Frederick Gunn School
History: Teams have not played this season
Record against playoff teams: Frederick Gunn: 6-7-0 St. George’s: 3-3-1
Matchup: There will be more NCAA D1 talent on the ice in this game than any of the other Small School quarterfinals games. Frederick Gunn is a more dynamic offensive team but they also give up a lot of goals whereas St. George’s is a bit more defensive giving up an average of 2 goals per game. They both have close to a .500 record against playoff teams but Frederick Gunn has had a much more challenging schedule. St. George’s has a really good first line with size and skill but Frederick Gunn can roll three and has a major depth advantage. Both teams are 6-2-0 in their last 8 games.
Frederick Gunn Advantages: Older roster, more size and speed and depth
St. George’s Advantages: Goaltending, top line
Key Players: Frederick Gunn has one of the deepest rosters in prep and their top 7 scorers are senors led by forwards Julian Facchinelli, Ryan Novo, Michael Murtagh, Aiden Lindley, Nathan Stachowiak and Kyle Smyth. They are anchored by two talented defenders in Sal Cerrato and Kiernan Gately. For St. George’s, they are led upfront by senior Matt Kursonis with 21 goals in 22 games and complemented by Julian Frias and Donovan Frias. They aren’t the only brothers making strong contributions as the Buckleys are as well, junior forward Ben Buckley is used in every situation, senior defender Ryan Buckley is the anchor on their blue line and youngest brother Danny is just a freshman but making an impact. In net Ryder Shea has been the starter but they’ve gotten great games out of Matthew DellaRusso as well.
Prediction: Frederick Gunn may be the hardest team to handicap in prep hockey; when they are rolling they are as good as anyone in the league but they can also go the other way. The lost to Avon one night 5-1 and then went back two days later and handedly beat Brusnwick 5-1. They beat Pomfret in an important matchup in a neutral rink and then lose two days later to the Brunswick team they handled a few weeks earlier. They end the season getting beat by Westminster 5-1 to turn around and defeat a surging Berkshire team on the road. St. George’s on the other hand is a bit more steady, they have an excellent top line offensive, some size and balance through the roster and two talented goalies. We think Frederick Gunns depth and physicality is going to be difficult for St.George’s to withstand for three periods so we’ll give them the edge in this one but St. George’s is no slouch and if Gunnery takes a lot of penalties which they have done at times this season and get sloppy in their own end they could be ripe for an upset.
#6 Governors @ #3 Westminster
History: Teams have not played this season
Record against playoff teams: Westminster 6-7-1 Governors: 6-6-1
Matchup: This has the makings of being the best game in the small school tournament because you have two teams that haven’t played each other, share very few common opponents but both have a high compete level, both teams have won key games down the stretch and are battle tested playing against many Elite 8 and playoff bound teams. Governors, while holding the 6th seed, is one of the hottest teams in the league going 7-1-1 in their last 9 games with wins over Nobles (twice), St. Sebastian’s and Andover. Prior to that run they were on a 0-5-1 stretch so that bounce back and strong close is noteworthy. Westminster has been through the gauntlet as well, playing in 5 games against Elite 8 competition as well as facing 5 playoff teams in their last 6 games. They are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games but all their losses are to quality playoff teams. Neither team has the superstar types but both are balanced and tough to play against.
Westminster Advantage: Older, team depth and scoring
Governors: Hot team
Key Players: Westminster is led by their top line in seniors Vic Barakett, Danny Judge and Adam Mendelson as well as power forward Luke Holyfield sophomore sharp shooter Ryan Shaw. On the backend Westminster is deep with seniors Daniel Lurie, JH Lages and Justin Chaput as well as sophomore Matthew Hanscom. Jacob Osborne has been their rock in net all season and can steal games. For Governors they are led upfront by senior forward Ian Olenik as well as Kyle Elliot, Michael Marchese and sophomore Cam Russo. On the backend Colin Elliot and Jack Farrell do most the heavy lifting and they get quality starts from both goalies Max Lacroix and David Palandjian.
Prediction: This one could go either way; Westminster is the better team, they are older, more experienced and have been battle tested with their recent schedule. However, they can also be inconsistent and take a lot of penalties which is a dangerous combination in the playoffs. Governors on the other hand is playing their best hockey as of late, they knocked off several quality teams down the stretch and are coming into the matchup with confidence. If we could select a tie here we would but we’ll take Westminster in a tight game with the advantage that they are a really tough team to play against and while Governors has had an impressive run late in the season, Westminster is a tough matchup with their speed, depth and physicality.
#5 Rivers @ #4 Pomfret
History: Teams have not played this season
Record against playoff teams: Pomfret: 1-5-3 Rivers: 4-5-0
Matchup: These are two teams that didn’t look like playoff contenders after the holiday tournaments but learned from their mistakes and finished strong. Pomfret went unbeaten for a month in mid January to mid February going 7–0-3 in that period then closed the year off going 1-2-1 in their last 4 but their losses were to Avon and Gunnery. Rivers on the other hand has gone 9-2-1 down the stretch to secure a playoff seed with wins over St. Mark’s, Nobles sand St. George’s. Pomfret has a more potent offense than Rivers but Rivers is riding a hot goalie who, in his last six starts he has 3 shutouts, 2 one-goal allowed and 1 two-goal allowed.
Pomfret Advantage: Team depth and scoring
Rivers Advantage: Hot goalie
Key Players: Rivers is led in net by Conor Sullivan who has been lights out during this late season playoff surge. They have two mobile, skilled defenders in Ollie Chessler and Luke Swaim and a top line on offense in seniors Ziv Deener-Chodirker, Stephen Canavan and Mel Mortarelli. Pomfret too has a real talent in net in senior Kellen Beauton. They are also led by a top line of all seniors in Matthew Spears, Declan Chapman and Nils Forselius. On the backend they have five stout senior defenders in Ian Wolanin, Carter Rugg, Philippe Lamarre, Josh Milso and Noah Webster.
Prediction: This is another coin flip as far as we are concerned; Pomfret is a slightly better team top to bottom but they have struggled to beat playoff teams going 1-5-3 in 9 games whereas Rivers has won 4 of 9 and is playing their best hockey down the stretch. We haven’t taken a single upset in this bracket yet so we’ll take Rivers and ride the hot goalie but it’ll be an exciting game that can go either way.
Photo Credit: Dan Hickling/Hickling Images