The first round of the Elite 8 tournament was a story of upsets. #1 Exeter, #2 Cushing, #3 Nobles, and #4 Loomis all succumbed to their visiting opponents who all won in differing styles. #8 KUA had to come from behind to beat Exeter, #7 Dexter nabbed an early goal and never looked back against Cushing, #6 Gunnery went into Dedham and blew out Nobles, and #5 Salisbury outlasted Loomis in a rivalry game. With the bottom four seeds remaining, let us check out the matchups.
#8 Kimball Union vs. #5 Salisbury @ 3:30 on Saturday, March 7th at Loomis-Chaffee School
Facing an Exeter team that had been reeling for a couple of weeks, Kimball Union was poised to pull off an upset over the number-one ranked Big Red. Despite falling behind on the road, Kimball Union always looked like a good bet for a comeback. Thanks to goals from Nic Hamre and Brendan Riley, the Wildcats were able to prove that they deserved the final Elite 8 spot over Brunswick. Yet, the next round will not be any easier for the Wildcats as KUA now goes up against two-time defending Elite 8 champion Salisbury. Despite a rough weekend in mid-February, with losses to Loomis and Cushing, I always liked the Crimson Knights to rebound and be a major factor in the postseason. Despite not having the high-level scoring that marked last year's squad, Salisbury has upgraded its goaltending with Bailey MacBurnie in net. Salisbury went into Loomis and despite the fact that it was 1-1 after one period of play, Salisbury always looked primed for the victory. Now that it will be the Wildcats versus the Knights, this game should be a low-scoring affair due to the fact that goaltending on both teams is so good. Yet, I think with their playoff-pedigree, Salisbury should be the favorite in this one. The 'Bury won the early-season matchup between these two teams by a score of 3-2 and I would not be surprised if they made it a double over the Wildcats.
#7 Dexter at #6 Gunnery @ 2 on Saturday, March 7th
Nobles was all over The Gunnery on Wednesday for the first period of play. The Bulldogs, however, could only muster one goal and that would come back to haunt them as the Highlanders exploded for three second period goals and eventually racked up another three in the last couple of minutes. Although goals have not come easily for The Gunnery this season, the Highlanders have been putting up big numbers as of late, scoring 33 goals in their last 7 games. Dexter, however, has not been giving up goals at all. Nick Lanni, a senior goaltender who played 9 minutes total going into this season, has emerged as one of the season's nicest surprises. The burly goaltender seems to be able to stop anything that comes his way and it was on display on Wednesday when he shut down Cushing's David Cotton and Bailey Conger. The Gunnery and Dexter have both not lost since January; these are the two hottest teams in prep hockey. With Ryan Donato and Pat Daly firing away on all cylinders for Dexter and Shawn Knowlton and Nick Quillan leading the charge for The Gunnery, expect an entertaining affair in this Elite 8 semifinal. It is going to be a close on.
It is going to be a great Saturday of prep hockey. Now, we have to wait and see which two teams will meet up on Sunday for the chance to be New England's best hockey team.